Wednesday, April 01, 2009

World Cup Bid 2018: England

Whenever England have taken part in a major football competition of late, one has usually been left with that feeling of imminent glory having been snuffed out by a distinct lack of professionalism. Unless dealt with promptly and efficiently, the very same thing could scupper England's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup too.

The country which prides itself on being the home of football unsurprisingly has many of its boxes ticked when it comes to the 2018 bid, not to mention its backup bid for the 2022 World Cup. A wide range of modern and well-equipped stadia are ready for use with, at worst, only slight improvements to be made to a few of them. The transport infrastructure is sound (if not perfect) and the bid has the full support of the government and commercial partners alike.

Around £15 million has been ring-fenced to help bring the 21st World Cup to England and a host of ambassadors including David Beckham, Fabio Capello and Prince William are now in position to convince FIFA's Executive Committee that it should do so.

Yet with other strong bids being put forward from Belgium & The Netherlands, Spain & Portugal and Russia, England's case for the right to host needs to be watertight for fear of splitting the European vote. Whether it can do that depends largely on its ability to learn from previous mistakes and to avoid making more in the future.

England's ability to do the right thing has been at times questionable. Having submitted a bid for the 2006 World Cup when they'd already committed to supporting Germany's, they went ahead and spent vast fortunes on ferrying former players such as Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Bobby Charlton around the world while assuming the arrogance of a country that thought it had the big prize in the bag. It didn't.

This time, no such assumptions will be made. The English Bid Team will know they've got to earn the respect of FIFA's many and varied member nations in order to live up to its top billing as favourites for 2018. There'll be no cocky swagger, no air of superiority - just a resolve to convey with passion the things English football does best and is most proud of.

Of course the biggest success story of the last fifteen years or so has been the Premier League. Reborn from the crumbling wreckage of the old Football League, it quickly became a huge money-making success and arguably the envy of every other country in the world. It therefore makes sense to include a representative from the Premier League on the England Bid Team, but for the last fifteen months or so there wasn't one. Only last month did Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards accept his worryingly belated invitation to join the team at a time when many were wondering if he'd even be invited at all.

A wise move it may be to include someone so intrinsically involved with the Premier League, but the Bid Team is still rife with political figures, all intent to promote their own beliefs and agendas. It perhaps doesn't bode well to have a team dominated in such a way by politicians when they have such an important job to do, and one can only hope that someone with a real feeling for the game will rise above any in-fighting with a necessary word of reason now and again.

But the Bid Team is now complete and looking all the stronger for it. All that remains is to see whether its personnel can conduct themselves in a professional and workmanlike manner as they co-ordinate a serious challenge for the hosting rights. In the forty years or more that have passed since the last time England held the World Cup Finals, it has become a leading force in the global game, but that reputation alone will not ensure success this time. England needs to show it's mature enough to get everything right before football finally comes home again.

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