Let me begin by making it quite clear that I am not about to defend the patently outdated and far from transparent process employed by FIFA in awarding the 2018/22 World Cup finals. That said, when things go wrong, it is often wise to look at oneself before pointing the finger at others. We Brits might like to think ourselves the guardians of fair play but the finger-pointing towards ‘Johnny Foreigner’ since Russia’s victory was announced does not paint us in a very good light.
England’s bid was globally agreed to be the best technical bid and the best commercial bid. So what might our bid team have got wrong?
It’s not so much that they got something wrong, it is that there was an important FIFA ‘want’ that they had no chance of getting right, or at least more ‘right’ than the opposition. Legacy.
Football is huge in England, further development of participation is challenging. The Premier League is a worldwide phenomenon, further development of ‘brand Premier League’ around the world is also challenging. Players from more nations play professional and semi-professional football in England than in any other FIFA member country (of which there are 208), so further development here is…you guessed it, challenging.
Of course, ‘challenging’ does not mean impossible but those challenges to developing the game and others (including a larger contribution to increasing overseas participation) are far smaller in Russia and they played that card expertly.
FIFA had made it clear that more than anything else, they want the World Cup to generate a long-lasting legacy for football. Was their bid better than ours? Not commercially, not technically, but in sport as in life you play the hand you are dealt and structure your tactics accordingly.
And if those FIFA delegates about to vote on the destination of this huge prize had looked to the UK to judge how we deliver on legacy what might they have seen? A nation whose winning of the 2012 Olympic Games was built on the promise of a sports participation legacy who, with less than two years to go, have yet to put any meaningful strategy for that legacy in place and which tries to develop sport via a succession of initiatives in place of properly integrated strategy. Hardly a trump card!
I don’t doubt there was corruption and lies. But we knew the likelihood of that was high going into the campaign and failed to plan our way around it. Panorama and rioting fans in Birmingham probably didn’t help much either and I don’t also doubt that delegates told our team that they would vote for England before voting for our rivals. That is hardly a crime, I know a few people who do the same every general election, telling cold calling politicians they have their vote just to get them off their doorstep!
Back to the beginning of this article; I’m not making excuses for FIFA and neither am I being an apologist for corruption. Change is needed in the House of Blatter.
But please, let’s not demean ourselves with petty finger-pointing before we have gone through a proper process of self-examination and reflection. Neither should we demean ourselves with excuses, for excuses are not the same thing as reasons and if we are to bid successfully for major world sports events again in the future, it is understanding and planning around the reasons for failure this time which will allow us to do so successfully.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010