6 December ~ In Tokyo in 1964 FIFA's president, Englishman Sir Stanley Rous, was busy organising the Olympic football competition. He had other matters on his mind too. FIFA's membership was expanding, and at the FIFA congress of that year 62 national associations cast their votes for a revolutionary plan for allocating and scheduling World Cup finals. By 55 votes to seven the congress authorised that, in future, the executive committee (Exco) rather than the congress would allocate World Cups.
In Rous's view, leaving the decision to congress was putting a "strain on friendships" and basing the choice of the hosts "on not wholly relevant issues". In the cosier climate of world football politics of the time, few saw anything at all odd in the change. Patrician Rous could be trusted and in London's Royal Garden Hotel two years later his committee confirmed that West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and Spain (1982) would be future hosts.
Dr João Havelange changed many things when he seized the FIFA presidency from Rous in 1974, committing much to emerging football federations in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in particular. But the power of the executive committee to award hosting rights remained intact. Rous thought that canvassing for votes would end once the big decision lay in the hands of a few honourable committee members. Havelange, his successor Sepp Blatter and their bloated executive committees have had no such qualms, actually encouraging the likes of the FA to spend lavishly within the bidding process. In 2000, this bought England's bid for 2006 a respectable five votes in the first round, though this dwindled to two in the second-round knockout stage.
A decade later, as the UK's prime minister, heir-to-the-throne-but-one and most glamorous and famous footballer flattered the Exco members at breakfasts and lunches in the swishest hotels in town, they might as well have been blinded by the blizzards blowing outside by the lake. England's first-round elimination with just two votes was a much worse performance than in 2000: with one low-profile English executive committee member (who unlike his successful counterparts from Russia and Qatar took no part in the final presentation) already in the bag, England's ill-advised bid for the 2018 World Cup finals garnered just one vote. A relatively conservative estimate of the cost of that vote is £15 million.
England's presentation pitched royalty, politics and celebrity to FIFA, and during its presentation its chief executive oleaginously congratulated FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke and his colleagues for the "superb way they've managed this complicated bidding process". The England delegation wasn't congratulating FIFAcrats when Russia's name came out of Blatter's envelope. Vladimir Putin was soon en route to Zürich to thank FIFA, and no doubt his faithful mover and shaker Roman Abramovich, who had been with the bid team. When asked which win pleased him most – getting the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi or this World Cup – Putin simply smiled and said how much he likes to win. Russia's bid prioritised development and new football markets, in a post-communist climate, in the biggest country in the world. It fitted a mission that was laid out in Havelange's manifesto of 1974. England's bid was patronising in at least two ways: offering national associations help from English clubs during the finals; and proposing a Football Utd scheme to match FIFA monies that have been committed to grass-roots and world football development, in effect an economic partnership with much-maligned FIFA.
The England bid looked even sillier as Exco "promises" were counted. "Given the promises that were made to us," the England bid boss asked, “how could the vote have turned out the way it did?” You couldn't get much more naive than this in the world of FIFA politics; it's not a gentleman's club. executive committee committee members have said to me that you always accept a bit of bad to go with all the good and a top European football executive told me that “FIFA's now so corrupt” that it no longer knows that it's being corrupt. Cameron's charm and courteousness doesn't work in this world.
Prince William was out of his depth in neutral Switzerland and could never match Machiavelli's star pupil Blatter. A "wise prince", recommended Niccolò Machiavelli, makes sure that his citizens "are always and in all circumstances dependent on him and his authority", so that they will "always be faithful to him". Insiders reckon that Blatter has at least 148 faithful dependents among FIFA's 208 national associations and many of these are represented by long-serving Exco men. Russia was always in the driving seat and a Russian victory could keep the rhetoric intact and the accounts books closed. How could a three or four-day England charm offensive have ended any other way than it did on Thursday afternoon? Alan Tomlinson