Magazine article The Spectator

England's Botched Bid to Stage the 2018 World Cup

Magazine article The Spectator

England's Botched Bid to Stage the 2018 World Cup

Article excerpt

The murky world of football politics requires special skills which our team seems to lack, says Mihir Bose

To understand how World Cup bids are won, let me take you to the third-floor suite of Dolder Grand hotel overlooking Lake Zurich. The date is May 2004 and the cast as high-powered as you would expect in any political summit. There was Thabo Mbeki, then president of South Africa, and Nelson Mandela, his predecessor. They had come to meet Jack Warner, the Trinidadian vice-president of FIFA - the organisation which controls world football. Warner had been sympathetic to South Africa's bid for the 2010 World Cup, but had suddenly turned cold - refusing to return any calls to Cape Town. So the South Africans had come to see him.

Mandela, of course, was South Africa's trump card. Just what these men discussed has never been revealed, but I caught up with Warner in the corridor immediately after the meeting and he said: 'Who knows?

Anything can happen.' Then he gave a big smile suggesting he was once again South Africa's friend.

Until that moment the Moroccans were very sure that they had secured Warner's votes. They had spent millions on their campaign, employing so many experts from all over the world that theirs was almost an 'outsourced' bid. They had expected to beat South Africa by 14 votes to ten. In the event, they were defeated by 14 to ten.

Warner, a former Port of Spain schoolteacher, is a hugely controversial figure who is believed to have accumulated a £30 million fortune through international football.

He has even been reprimanded by his fellow FIFA executive members for the way he and his son handled the sale of tickets for the last World Cup. But that the South Africans deployed Mandela, the nearest to a modernday Gandhi, on a figure like Warner shows how high the stakes were. When your country wants the World Cup, you have to use all the tools at your disposal.

As England must now learn, any successful bid requires a twin strategy. You must pretend you are travelling on a high road - talking openly, and enthusiastically, of all the good the bid will do both for your country, for football and the world. But the real journey is made along the low road, cutting deals with FIFA executives, charming football administrators in remote outposts of the game and playing what few trump cards you can get your hands on. And this, of course, is the trouble with England's 2018 bid.

Just how much England has to learn was brutally demonstrated last month at an international sports conference in London.

Warner's wife was presented with a Mulberry bag on her birthday by the bid team. The bid team had bought 24 of these bags at around half their original price of £230 and planned to give one to each of the wives of executive members when they came here. Their thinking was that nobody could complain if they all got the same bag and the present would remind them fondly of England. But the English press smelt a rat, and their reports so incensed Warner that he returned the gift - muttering about a 'deafening' silence from the England team over the affair.

As if this were not enough, England's bid is also beset by problems over strategy - and three men from Sheffield pulling in different directions. One is Richard Caborn, the avuncular former sports minister named Gordon Brown's 'ambassador' to the 2018 bid. …

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