When the English do something badly – and, let’s face it, this is not an uncommon appearance – it can be toe-curling. How many of you remember the bidding for the 2006 World Cup? The excrutiating sight of Manchester United being withdrawn from the World Cup to travel to Brazil for the World Club Cup and then finishing from their group. The FA reneging on their agreement to stand aside in bidding for the tournament in exchange for German support for Euro 96. The arrogance of it all was jaw-dropping, and the biggest surprise of all was that they got as far with as they did.
We have, however, been led to believe that 2018 is our destiny. This is the fault of the Olympic Games. Five years ago no-one in England would have thought it possible that this country would be chosen for anything, but the amazingly successful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games gave just enough people just enough “can do” attitude to think that it might be possible. Over the last couple of years, FIFA have sent out unsurprisingly conflicting messages about England’s suitability to host such a tournament, but the truth of the matter is that the decision has yet to be made. However, far from being the cake walk that some may have expected, nine other countries are likely to be tabling bids against England, which raise all manner of questions over which way the wind is currently blowing within FIFA. In addition to this, the perception of “English arrogance” may cause untold damage to the bid, and not without merit.
We should, in the interests of fairness, point out the positive aspects of the English bid. The “heritage” aspect of it may play well, or it make little difference to the FIFA delegates, but it’s difficult to imagine that it would have a negative effect. The stadia are amongst the best in the world, especially in a relatively small country. Wembley, Old Trafford, The Emirates Stadium and the rest of them are new facilities with large capacities, and there may be more joining them before 2018. In addition to this, by 2018 it will have been fifty-two years since England last hosted the tournament. Mexico and Germany have both hosted the tournament twice since England last did. Since 1966, the tournament has been to Asia and will go to Africa for the first time next year. Also, by 2018 it will be twelve years since a tournament was held in Europe which, considering the importance of the European television audience, also works in favour of a European bidder.
There are also significant problems with some of the other countries that are bidding or are likely to bid. The United States of America would undoubtedly put on a great show but, while MLS has been very successful since its inception, should a country that hasn’t fully integrated the game into its culture be given the global showpiece twice in a single generation. The same goes for Australia. The time zone will cause a major headache (particularly since the previous tournament will have been held in Brazil), and the issue of whether a country which has qualified for the finals of the World Cup just twice is also an open one. Russia seems too unwieldly to host a World Cup finals (this is, after all, a country of eleven time zones) , and the other European contenders (Spain & Portugal and Belgium & Holland) seem likely to fall foul of increasing hostility towards joint bids. In this respect, the 2002 tournament in Japan & South Korea was not deemed an unqualified success by FIFA. Sepp Blatter recently said, “As long as we have single-country bids which provide all the necessary guarantees we will reject co-hosting bids”, though he is liable to change his mind at a moment’s notice.
So far so good for England, then. The lingering doubts remain, though. The Premier League’s Game 39 plans have done untold damage to England’s reputation abroad. Many of those that matter – the small-time suits that suddenly become very important when these decisions are made – consider these proposals to be little more than cultural imperialism from the Premier League. There is also the small matter of the state of Cold War that currently exists between the FA and the Premier League. Lord Triesman of the FA struck the right tone when he attacked the levels of debt in the Premier League towards the end of last year, but there is an extent to which the FA’s bid needs the Premier League on its side. They could scupper it completely, should they choose to. It is, at this point, worth pointing out that, in the battle for global supremacy, a successful World Cup finals in England would be diametrically opposed to the interests of the Premier League. In this day an age, the World Cup is treated as a competitor to the Premier League rather than a supplement to it.
In addition to this, there is the possibility that FIFA will be looking for something specific from a World Cup host. If they’re going for money, Dubai is the obvious choice. If they’re looking to develop the game in a part of the world with a massive population and a comparatively level of interest in the game, then they could go for Indonesia or China. If they’re after spectacle, then America or Australia would be the obvious choices. England may be able to offer a little of each of these, but sitting in the middle could prove to be as much of a hindrance to their bid as it could be a help. Also, the widespread belief that England are currently the clear favourites could well act against them. It raises the possibility that complacency or arrogance could set in. Given that “arrogance” is a criticism frequently levelled and England and the English in all walks of life, the FA will have to walk a very fine line between appearing confident their own ability to host the tournament and simply believing that all that they have to do is turn up and give their presentation in order to be selected. Anyone that goes into it with the thought, “They think it’s all over…” in the back of their head is likely to receive a nasty wake up call.
Of course, we want the World Cup in England. From an entirely personal (and selfish) perspective, I am thirty-six years old and have never been to a World Cup finals. Indeed, there hasn’t been one played in the country in which I live within my lifetime. Indeed, I will be almost forty-six by the time of the 2018 World Cup finals. It is, to this extent, England’s turn. However, it is critical that the FA strikes the right tone with their bid and avoids the many pitfalls that lay ahead of them. It is a reflection on the global popularity of the game that, even with ten countries likely to be bidding for the 2018 World Cup finals, this could be the best chance that England will get.