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Spectator Sport: Goodbye World Cup, hello xenophobia

So here’s a thing: if Fifa is so bloody venal and corrupt, then why on earth did England ever have anything to do with it? If much of its activity is spent lumbering poor regions of the earth with a vast web of unaffordable stadiums and expensive infrastructure before disappearing with billions of untaxed income, then why has there been such a howl of outrage that England wasn’t allowed to join in? And if they’re all so ‘buyable’, to use Andy Anson’s word, why did we send a prince among men, not to mention Prince William and the Prime Minister, to grovel before it? England’s misconceived and (apart from the last three days, which were excellent) ill-executed bid for the 2018 World Cup has ended up in the bin where it should have been consigned long ago.

11 December 2010

12:00 AM

11 December 2010

12:00 AM

So here’s a thing: if Fifa is so bloody venal and corrupt, then why on earth did England ever have anything to do with it? If much of its activity is spent lumbering poor regions of the earth with a vast web of unaffordable stadiums and expensive infrastructure before disappearing with billions of untaxed income, then why has there been such a howl of outrage that England wasn’t allowed to join in? And if they’re all so ‘buyable’, to use Andy Anson’s word, why did we send a prince among men, not to mention Prince William and the Prime Minister, to grovel before it?

England’s misconceived and (apart from the last three days, which were excellent) ill-executed bid for the 2018 World Cup has ended up in the bin where it should have been consigned long ago.

So here’s a thing: if Fifa is so bloody venal and corrupt, then why on earth did England ever have anything to do with it? If much of its activity is spent lumbering poor regions of the earth with a vast web of unaffordable stadiums and expensive infrastructure before disappearing with billions of untaxed income, then why has there been such a howl of outrage that England wasn’t allowed to join in? And if they’re all so ‘buyable’, to use Andy Anson’s word, why did we send a prince among men, not to mention Prince William and the Prime Minister, to grovel before it?

England’s misconceived and (apart from the last three days, which were excellent) ill-executed bid for the 2018 World Cup has ended up in the bin where it should have been consigned long ago. But what is staggering has been the vicious sourness of the reaction. Shortly after the 1997 general election the Observer ran an interview with the shadow foreign secretary Robin Cook under an enormous splash headline, ‘Goodbye xenophobia’. Well, the sentiment is wildly off beam: xenophobia is alive and well and rampaging through England.


It is impossible to underestimate quite how much the rest of the world dislikes England, with our overbearing sense of entitlement, arrogance, whingeing and blithe plundering of most of the world’s best players for our leagues. The truth is, an awful lot of people don’t want us to host a World Cup, least of all when we bang on as if it’s ours by right.

Our bid for the 2006 tournament, widely recognised as one of the worst bids in history, still managed to garner five votes. Last week we got just one (apart from our own) — call that value for money at £13 million?

So what exactly was wrong with giving 2018 to Russia? Where would you rather see, say, New Zealand vs Saudi Arabia: in Milton Keynes, or St Petersburg? David Beckham was as charming and graceful as ever at Zurich, but so was Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin, and I daresay his English is a damn sight better than Prince William’s Russian.

One of the most telling slides in the Russian bid was the image of a map of Europe, with a large vertical line dividing it. On the left was a mass of red indicating all the European countries and cities which had hosted World Cups. On the right was a blank mass of white: Russia. Now you might think, like the US ambassador, that Russia is something of a mafia state. Well, whatever, but who would you prefer to have sorting out a little local difficulty: Andy Anson or Vladimir Putin? And if you live in Nizhny Novgorod, you will be looking for the crowds and the money, the roads and the hotels to come on line by 2018. And they will. Count on it.

Even more puzzling is the fury over Qatar. Why on earth shouldn’t one of the richest, most ambitious countries in one of the most significant regions on the planet get to host the World Cup? As Zinedine Zidane pointed out in a clever and moving ad for the Qatar bid, ‘Football is for everyone.’ (Well, maybe not so much if you’re gay out there, but still.) Mike Lee, who helped win our Olympics, was not wanted by England’s 2018 team, so he went to work for Qatar. And the international drive for Qatar was handled by the London PR firm of Brown Lloyd James. Damn fine effort.

After a brilliant career as a rugby player, Brian Moore has carved out a barnstorming role as a broadcaster and journalist. Now with his first book Beware of the Dog, a brutally frank autobiography, he has just won the William Hill sports book award. It’s a fitting honour for a decent and honest man. Do the right thing and get it for someone you like at Christmas. Money well spent.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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