2022 World Cup – Saturday 19 November 2022

On Sunday 20 November the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup competition begins with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium. Am I excited? Am I looking forward to this edition which for the first time takes place in Winter rather than the traditional summer period?

Quite simply – No.

Part of it is due to the fact that it comes after a loaded sporting few weeks of tournaments both here in England and abroad featuring our national teams, as well as events such as the NFL International Series games at Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As a fan I’ve shared the disappointment as the Red Roses, England women’s rugby union team, agonisingly lost to their New Zealand counterparts in the Final down-under, and in the Rugby League World Cup here in England where both the Men’s and Women’s suffered Semi-Final defeats. However, there has been joy though as the Men captured the T20 cricket trophy over Pakistan, and the Men’s England Wheelchair Rugby League side became World Cup winners.

Given this mega-feast of sport lately, the World Cup seems like an afterthought.

Of course after the Lionesses triumph in this summer’s European Championships and the Three Lions, run to the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final and European Championship Finals last year, expectation and excitement for football should be high. However, for me the Nations League performances against Germany, Hungary, and Italy showed that Gareth Southgate has taken the side as far as he can and there’s no disgrace in that given what he has achieved in his time in charge.

Other reasons for not being ‘up’ for the World Cup. Well, there are the much publicised concerns regarding Qatar’s stance on same-sex relationships, its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers. Additionally there must be real concerns over player and indeed match officials health in such temperatures. Nobody wants a repeat of the Christian Eriksen incident in the recent Euros.

Then there is FIFA swerving any position around the rainbow rainbow-coloured armband featuring a rainbow heart design to campaign against discrimination that some team captains will be wearing. The FIFA position is very much, don’t upset our hosts, it’s all about the football – totally blinkered. But what do you expect when the FIFA delegates will want for nothing in Qatar during their time in the Middle East. Who said corruption and backhanders within the walls of Zurich are dead? Politics and football – a heady mix but one football’s governing body will be engaging in during the coming weeks to defend the decision to be in Qatar.

Then this week late in the day more negative publicity. Firstly, another example of one rule for fans and one for the rest, as beer will not be sold to supporters, yet those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol. Then it has been followed by a curious speech by FIFA President Infantino which opened with the line: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.” We thought Blatter was bad, but here we are with another man in power messily defending the award of the World Cup to a country that bought the right to host it.

The most bizarre World Cup looms, who knows what it will bring.

World Cup 2018 – Fallout

Two days on the FIFA decision on Thursday still hurts and continues to make headlines. The debate about the rights and wrongs will rumble on. In looking to close out what has occurred this week, the words of acting FA Chairman Roger Burden possibly best sum up the frustrations of the England Bid Team.

“…We (England) were equal top of FIFA’s own technical assessment of the four bids…We were top of an independent assessment of the best commercial bids and our presentation on Thursday was widely acclaimed as the best of the 2018 and 2022 bids…Against this background, I am struggling to understand how we only achieved two votes. It is difficult to believe that the voting was an objective process…On top of that, Prince William, the Prime Minister and other members of our delegation were promised votes that did not materialise…”

Burden points to the obvious question, in that if the Bid is based on the FIFA assessments and the England Bid came out on top in these, then what where the factors that the Executive Committee used to make its decision to award the 2018 event to Russia?

Unfortunately the Sunday Times and BBC Panorama programme provided the “excuse” for FIFA to reject the England Bid.

Roger Burden has subsequently withdrawn his application for the position of FA Chairman, saying that in the post he would have to work closely with FIFA, but feels he would be unable to, as he no longer trusts or has faith in the FIFA Executive Committee. A thought echoed by many, many people after Thursday.

World Cup 2018 – 2 days to decision

So that was it? 29 minutes which basically featured details of a case that has been through the Swiss Courts back in 2008. So where was the new evidence? What bit of it was in the public interest? Will the BBC be trotting off to the Police with their “allegations”? So the Panorama team has a list from a “trusted source”, but what direct links do the payments details have with those that they accuse? Where’s the proof?

The way the journalist Andrew Jennings went about the programme gave the impression that it was a personal vendetta against FIFA, rather than an impartial investigative story. A visit to his website shows an obsession with FIFA related stories, which frankly was reflected in last night’s television offering.

It’s an unfortunate fact of modern society, that where there is business and politics or any arena where there is much to gain, whether in financial terms or individual power, there will be corruption. It doesn’t mean it is right or should be ignored, but for the media to act like saints who know what is in our best interest is frankly patronising.

The timing of the programme just doesn’t make sense sentiments echoed by Andy Anson, the head of England’s 2018 Bid, who said he was “…disappointed with the timing of the programme…” and added “…it is certainly not going to win us any votes so we just have to see what happens tonight (Monday) and move on…”

It shows how “informed” the programme was in stating that England’s fate lay in the hands of Nicolas Leoz and Ricardo Teixeira. The reality is that the South American Federation has already pledged its support to the Spain/Portugal Bid. Where the damage will be done is with regard to Issa Hayatou and Jack Warner, as England would have been targeting the CAF (Central Africa) and CONCACAF (North & Central Africa and Caribbean) votes.

As a final thought – you know there is something not quite right in the world when David Mellor is dragged out by the BBC to give advice on integrity and morals.

World Cup 2018 – 7 days to decision

Over the years I’ve probably been to see England on about a dozen occasions. Two of those were World Cup Qualifying games. The first was against Switzerland at Wembley in November 1980. England lined-up as follows:

Shilton, Neal, Sansom, Robson, Watson, Mills (Captain), Coppell, McDermott, Mariner, Brooking (Rix), Woodcock.

It was a game that seemed to be all over and done with at half time. England had taken the lead on 22 minutes as Tony Woodcock’s shot was deflected in by Tanner. When Paul Mariner made it 2-0 on 36 minutes, it seemed that the points were safely secured and England would win comfortably. However, with the injured Trevor Brooking departing in the second-half Switzerland grew in confidence and were rewarded with a goal on 76 minutes by Pfister. Suddenly there was desperation about England and the Wembley crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief when the referee blew for full-time. My abiding memory of the game was provided by a group of Swiss fans. They supported their team with gusto throughout armed with the biggest set of cow-bells I’ve ever seen or heard.

 If the Swiss game was an uncomfortable experience, then worse was to follow in April the following year. Romania were the opponents as England lined-up as follows:

Shilton, Anderson, Sansom, Robson, Watson (Captain), Osman, Wilkins, Brooking (McDermott), Coppell, Francis, Woodcock.

 It was a game in which England never got going and struggled with a resolute Romanian defence. The game ended 0-0 and the England players were booed off at the end of the game, with Qualification looking difficult in a Group that was turning out to be very close.

Things got worse for Ron Greenwood’s team as in May 1981 they went to Switzerland and lost 2-1. This left three games left in which to salvage their World Cup campaign. England had two games in June of that year. The first was away to Group front-runners Hungary and they swept to a stunning 3-1 win in Budapest thanks to two goals from Trevor Brooking and one from Kevin Keegan. Just three days later England travelled to Norway and all seemed to be going well when Bryan Robson gave the visitors the lead on the quarter hour. However, by half-time Norway had stormed ahead 2-1. England found no way back and it led to the infamous commentary at the end of the game on Norwegian TV by Bjorge Lillelien. “…Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!…”. The final game in the Group came in November 1981 at Wembley against Hungary who had already booked their World Cup place. An early Paul Mariner goal settled the nerves and England won 1-0 to seal Qualification for the 1982 World Cup.

The location for the 1982 World Cup was Spain. With a week to go to decision day, could that country be co-hosting the event in 2018?

World Cup 2018 – 9 days to decision

The reality is that this time next week the BBC Panorama programme into FIFA will have been aired and the England 2018 Bid team will be trying desperately to deal with the repercussions. Panorama have been here before with this subject matter with Jack Warner coming under the spotlight previously.

Jack Warner is currently the Trinidad and Tobago football executive, FIFA Vice-President and CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean  Association Football) President. His first brush with Panorama came when Warner was accused of corruption for repeatedly taking advantage of his position for financial gain. FIFA’s auditors, Ernst & Young, estimated that his family made a profit of at least $1 million from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets that Warner had ordered. Minutes of FIFA’s Executive Committee show that a fine of almost $1 million, equal to the expected profiteering, was imposed on the family.

Of the impending Panorama programme due to be screened on 29 November, the CONCACAF President has said it was “…deliberately designed to negatively impact…” on England’s bid and claims the programme is nothing more than “…a personal vendetta…”.

The England Bid team are aware that Warner holds the key to three votes which could be crucial to their chances of winning the 2018 decision. Previously, Warner was critical of the England Bid and caused controversy when he said  that “…England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football…” he added that, “…for Europe, England is an irritant…”, and that “…nobody in Europe likes England…”. However, he has since been seen as an advocate of the English Bid. Indeed England have courted Warner over the last few years. In June 2008 England played Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain and as recently as this September this year, David Beckham was in Macoya (Trinidad) coaching youngsters and pressing the claims of the England 2018 Bid with Warner. This month too has seen more attempts to secure Warner’s support as Prime Minister David Cameron invited the CONCACAF President to lunch.

However, the Bid team know that they have to do more than focus on Jack Warner to ensure they get the 12 votes necessary and as the clock ticks down to decision day England 2018 representatives are out around the world. This week the Bid team is in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion staging a safety and security seminar at the home of CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) as part of its campaign to gain support from their FIFA Executive Committee members. Elsewhere, David Dein, the former Arsenal and FA vice-chairman, travels to Rio de Janeiro for informal meetings with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazil’s FIFA member Ricardo Terra Teixeira. Finally, England 2018 chairman Geoff Thompson, Chief Executive Andy Anson and Ambassador Paul Elliott will travel to Kuala Lumpur with Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to see the four Asian members of the FIFA Executive Committee.

Gentleman good luck, the hopes of the nations bid rest with you.

World Cup 2018 – 11 days to decision

Another day and more pressure on the England Bid. With FIFA President Sepp Blatter having had his say on  the impact of the Sunday Times investigation, UEFA President and FIFA Vice President Michel Platini has also offered his views.

Like his President, Platini maintains that the England 2018 World Cup Bid will not be affected by the Sunday Times incident or indeed the impending BBC Panorama programme into FIFA. However, Platini insisted that the risk came from the English media’s criticism of FIFA over a number of years.

In an interview with The Independent, Platini said, “…I don’t think it’s a problem. These investigations are just people doing their job…If they (the England bid) do not have a good feeling about FIFA, that’s nothing to do with these investigations, but that comes from what the English press have been writing about FIFA for very many years. That could be a problem for the bid…”

The trouble for the England Bid team is, when they should be in a position with the decision so close to be able to bring the campaign to a climax in a positive manner, they are instead having to deal with the Sunday Times fallout and prepare for trying to close the wound the Panorama programme will undoubtedly cause, just three days before the decision.

Whilst FIFA appear to be making the right noises, they always seem to come with a little sting in the tail. The England Bid team must feel like a suspect in a trial, watching helplessly as the prosecuting barrister says something inappropriate which the judge has to ask the jury to strike from their memories. Once a cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get it back in.

World Cup 2018 – 12 days to decision

The fallout from the Sunday Times story and the resulting FIFA action in banning a number of Committee members just won’t go away. Sepp Blatter has felt the need to say that he believes the England 2018 World Cup Bid will not be damaged in the wake of the expose by the Sunday Times. However, it seemed a less than reassuring statement. Blatter said that he didn’t believe the Executive Committee would be influenced by the revelations.

This didn’t appear to entirely ring true though as Blatter expressed his unhappiness with the entrapment method used, declaring it unfair, despite the fact that it gave FIFA an opportunity to root out corruption. The most worrying fact for the England 2018 Bid is that FIFA President Blatter acknowledged that the bans had not gone down well with everyone within the organisation in stating that the decisions “…may not have found total support of all the members of the executive committee, it would be exaggerated to pretend that…”

England’s Bid totally unaffected? Mr Blatter it doesn’t sound quite that way to me….