As someone whose heart wanted England to get the 2018 World Cup, but whose head didn’t (in a nutshell, and amongst a number of reasons, we can’t afford it) I naturally had mixed feelings about our failure to win today. ‘Failure to win’ is of course a massive understatement. We presumably only attracted one vote from the other 21 FIFA Exco members.
FIFA, not known for its transparency, provides few metrics in its evaluation reports (available here). They do however give a range of ratings related to risk. Perhaps we had submitted a bid that was too risky. Well, have a look for yourself:
|ENGLAND||NETHERLANDS / BELGIUM||SPAIN / PORTUGAL||RUSSIA||QATAR|
|Government guarantees||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Hosting agreement||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Host city arrangements||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Stadium agreements||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Training city agreements||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk|
|Confirmation agreements||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Overall legal risks||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Stadium construction||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk||Medium risk|
|Stadium operations||Medium risk||Medium risk||Medium risk||Medium risk||Medium risk|
|Team facilities||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk||Low risk||High risk|
|Competition-related events||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk|
|Airports and international connections||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||High risk risk||Medium risk|
|Ground transport||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk||Medium risk|
|Host city transport||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk|
|General accommodation||Medium risk||Medium risk||Low risk||Medium risk||Medium risk|
|International Broadcast Centre||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Low risk||Medium risk|
|NO. OF VOTES|
The rating of ‘High risk’ occurs only three times in all the ratings for 2018 and 2022 contenders – twice for Qatar and once for Russia.
It would seem that, far from being risk averse, the FIFA Exco members favoured risky bids!
Of course, I’m falling into that old trap of assuming that they behaved and voted in a rational way.
So, if it wasn’t content that wooed them, perhaps it might have been style. No metrics here, but my impression was that we had come to the party with just the right blend of banalities and photogenic children that had worked so well in Singapore. Certainly our effort was no more nor less vomit-inducing than the oppositions’. Certainly it was no less contrived.
Inevitably we come back to the process of selection as the root cause of England’s failure. We didn’t jump through the right hoops. We didn’t pound the ground or press the flesh hard enough. We trusted Jack Warner. We were naïve. The core question is which of those are things we should not be happy with.
As we wake up the next morning, sadly free of the anticipated hangover, criticism continues to focus on the role of our media. It was Panorama and The Sunday Times wot dunnit. Whether it was or wasn’t will be endlessly debated, but that misses the point. Having a free press with a healthy body of investigative journalists who are happy to point out that the emperor has no clothes is something we should celebrate rather than lament surely, even if we don’t like the outcomes. There is a need to distinguish between the process of selection and the outcomes of that process.
As for the outcomes, there could have been (from all the countries in the world) far worse choices than Russia. Have a look at this clip of their plans for stadiums. Mind you, it would hard to find a less appropriate choice than Qatar to be the host of football’s crowning glory. I’m sure many a fellow academic is already planning their research on the socio-cultural impact of 2022 on Qatar. I suspect that either fans will stay way (I would recommend Amnesty Internationals’ latest report on Qatar before you book your flights) or Qatar will unleash a lot of unwelcome behaviour in its hotels, which will test their public relations arm to the limits.
As for the media, there are in fact examples of both excellent and diabolical commentary. Topping my list of excellent commentary at the moment is Declan Hill’s Stumped, Unanswered Questions and an Organization with a Credibility Death-Wish, closely followed by David Conn’s contribution, Jens Sejer Andersen’s contribution, Paul Kelso’s contribution and Ian King’s reflections over at TwoHundredPerCent. Dishonorable mentions must go to the Daily Mail, and to an amazing attack on the ‘eight villains of the piece‘ by the Guardian, although the last of these appears to have been removed from their website.
If there is any criticism to be made of our media, it is that they raised our expectations too high. The strength of our bid technically may well have encouraged them to do so, but they didn’t seem to have noticed that the decision is made not by a committee of wise and rational men, but rather by a group of malleable football D-listers. The evidence was there, thanks to journalists like Andrew Jennings, but was perhaps not given the prominence in mainstream media over the years that it deserved.