England is Losing all Credibility by Offering to Host World Cup 2022
England must stop angling for the 2022 World Cup or risk completely discrediting themselves in the FIFA reform debate
Photo by PA Images
With the fall of others comes opportunity – although in the demise of Sepp Blatter, most have at least suppressed their own interests for the time being. With the FIFA president barely out the organisation's vaulted door, football figures and federations are still towing the party line that this was all 'for the good of the game'.
Not England, though. Good old England.
FBI agents are still carting boxes of documents and dossiers through the lobbies of Zurich hotels, and yet England – the country that can't stop talking – has already put itself forward as step-in World Cup hosts should Russia or Qatar be stripped of the 2018 or 2022 tournaments. Anyone would think that all those calls for change with world football's governing body were made under false pretence.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale said, with suitable pomp, "If FIFA came forward and asked us to consider hosting it we have the facilities in this country, and of course we did a very impressive, if unsuccessful, bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
"In terms of the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, that is obviously something which we are watching, but at the moment that decision stands. If it were decided to change that, I think, as the chairman of the English FA Greg Dyke observed, if Russia hosts the World Cup in 2018 it does seem very unlikely that another European country would host it in 2022."
How very kind of England, doing the world a favour like that. But beyond the sheer kind-heartedness of offering to stage a competition that is estimated to be worth billions to hosting economies, England's true colours are starting to shine through. And it only took a matter of days.
Just last week Dyke insisted that England's calls for reform within FIFA had "absolutely nothing to do with an England bid for the World Cup or England hosting the World Cup." Time after time the FA chairman batted away suggestions that such protests were designed to boost the country's slim chances of hosting the tournament in either 2018 or 2022. "This is about one thing," he added, "how do you rebuild the reputation of FIFA and turn it into an open, fair and honest organisation with Blatter still at the helm?"
And yet Dyke took to almost every media channel in the UK less than 24 hours after Blatter's demise to claim that the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup should be reopened. Outside UEFA's jurisdiction, world football is collectively concerned that the Euro-zone might be about to stage a power-grab based around the 2018 and 2022 World Cups – and Dyke is certainly playing up to that viewpoint.
Of course, Dyke is hardly the epitome of political innocence. He might have stood a chance of such a moniker had he not accepted no less than six watches as 'gifts' from various lobbying parties over the course of his tenure. Although, to be fair, England's 2018 bid – overseen by Dyke – only offered the wives of FIFA delegates 24 Mulberry handbags to help sway their votes, so he does deserve some credit for holding out to an extent. He wasn't about to hand over limited edition Parmigiani watches worth around £16,000 – like the one he accepted at the Brazil World Cup last summer – for goodness sake. The man has at least some principles.
If Dyke had any diplomatic sense he – and the UK parliament, under guidance from the FA – would hold off on any offers to host the World Cup until solid evidence of a corrupt voting process has at least been established. England must show that it's real about reform of FIFA by dropping its 2022 pitch – otherwise it will only appear that the country is gagging on the sourest of grapes.
Apart from anything else, Whittingdale, Dyke, Andy Burnham (who has called for England to boycott the World Cup) and anyone else already planting the St. George's Cross in the 2022 World Cup seem gleefully ignorant of the fact that England never bid in the first place to host that year's tournament. Instead, England were unsuccessful in their efforts to host the 2018 World Cup. This will almost certainly take place in Russia, given that it is only three years off, despite persistent claims of corruption and misappropriation over that tournament too.
If England truly held good will and institutional reform dear they would be making their – albeit ill-fated – pitch to host the 2018 tournament, the World Cup they actually bid for. But with the eventuality of that something of an impossibility, England has naturally turned its focus on 2022 – in total ignorance of the way FIFA has vowed to rotate the tournament around its six member confederations. 2022 isn't Europe's turn, but England doesn't care about technicalities like that.
Of all the people to restore at least a degree of political credibility to England's stance on the past week's FIFA developments, David Cameron backed Whittingdale's comments in the House of Commons before reiterating that his current priority is focussed on "cleaning up" the game's governing body.
But not even the Prime Minister has managed to take a grip of England's rampant self-seeking in the days following Blatter's resignation. The country can't help itself. In 1996 it sang that football was coming home, and now it seems hell-bent on ensuring that it does whether the sport likes it or not. Wembley Stadium has been rebuilt with enough executive boxes to house Blatter's entire inner circle, and still FIFA hasn't played a single World Cup final there. The cheek of it.
As shocking as it may seem, English football doesn't sustain the best reputation beyond its own territory. The Premier League might be the most lucrative and most watched sporting division on the planet, but it's also seen as the ultimate manifestation of English arrogance and ignorance – and the country's 2018 and 2022 pitch is only an extension of that. Someone needs to tell Dyke that if there is to be a re-vote England will actually need support from other countries, not just obnoxious self-assurance, to win.
With every report from Qatar – whether it be over migrant worker conditions or the arrest of legitimate journalists – the Gulf nation's suitability as a World Cup host is called into question. A re-vote may well come to pass, although a hum-dinger of a legal minefield would have to be navigated first.
Calls for the bidding process to be prised open again might be well principled, but it is coming across as otherwise. World football is already suspicious of Europe's true intentions in a post-Blatter age and so the self-proclaimed home of the game must put a cork in it for the moment.
FIFA has burnt to the ground following generations of selfish corruption and introversion. But by feigning calls for reform, only to follow it up with bids of their own self-interest, Dyke, Whittingdale, Burnham and English football in general are hardly exemplifying the principled approach they so passionately called for just weeks ago. It's time for football to claim the sport back, but England apparently wants it all for itself.