8 December ~ Reaction to last Thursday's World Cup hosting decisions has ranged from the sulky (our bid's chief Andy Anson says we won't be bidding again until FIFA changes its ways) to the enraged. Even Barack Obama was less than gracious when he complained that choosing Qatar was "the wrong decision". According to the Mirror, FIFA's decisions to give World Cups to Russia and Qatar are "inexplicable on any rationale grounds... impossible to understand to all those who love football". Well, I love football, and not only do I understand the decisions but I'm really happy about them.
I didn't pay much attention to the bidding process. Gambling £15 million on selling "football in England" seemed sick while so many jobs are being lost. Not one of the FIFA executive committee would have learnt anything from our promotional materials (which apparently many of them didn't bother to look at) or our lobbying (though I'm sure they were happy to have their photo taken with Prince William and David Beckham). English football is shown on TVs all over the world, and everyone at FIFA already knew everything they needed to know about our capabilities as potential hosts. Either they were going to vote for us or they weren't. Our bid ought to have consisted solely of us saying we'd be willing to do it, if anyone wanted us to.
England being among the bidders reminded me a lot of Oxford's attempt to become Europe's Capital of Culture in 2008. We gave the process credibility but surely few outside the country could have wanted us or seriously expected us to win. FIFA's recent decisions on World Cup hosts have been heavily influenced by an attempt to expand their football brand (Japan, South Korea) and a little romanticism (Africa's first World Cup, the first in a reunited Germany). We couldn't seriously offer either of those things – we may be "football's birthplace" but FIFA have already decided to return the next World Cup to "its spiritual home", Brazil.
If we ever had a chance of winning the vote, surely Beckham's constant chorus of "We have the best fans in the world", Prince William thinking the world cares about his wedding and David Cameron's belief that "safeness" was our selling point would have turned off anyone who had considered voting for us. Graham Taylor, while joining the call for FIFA reform, surely won't be the last to acknowledge that we are globally perceived as incredibly arrogant.
Before saying why I'm happy the World Cups will be in Russia and Qatar, I should say I don't think either country "deserves" to host the competition. I'm not sure what criteria could determine whether a country deserves to hold a World Cup, but in the case of Qatar, I would say that a FIFA ranking of 113, a population around the same size as Birmingham, and having not ever qualified for one, almost certainly mean that you don't. But 99.9 per cent of any World Cup's audience will always being watching on TV anyway. For me, as one of those TV viewers, pre-match and half-time clips of Doha and Moscow streets will be far more entertaining than anything from Madrid, New York, or Sydney – cities I've seen plenty of through other sporting events. Both Qatar and Russia clearly have the financial clout to build the beautiful stadiums required for a great televisual spectacle and I'm sure they'll also prove very interesting destinations for anyone lucky enough to be able to afford to follow England if we qualify for either competition.
Many of our newspapers, who during last summer's World Cup happily ran constant ads for FIFA-approved companies and products, have only just noticed noticed that "money talks" to a worrying extent with international football's governing body. But, at the same time, they are commenting that our "unjustly overlooked" bid made the most financial sense and that financial forecasts predict that Russia may only be able to meet 86 per cent of FIFA's financial target for 2018.
I couldn't care less about FIFA's financial targets. All those at the top of the game obviously earn far too much money (maybe both legitimately and illegitimately) and if the 2018 and 2022 World Cups didn't make a penny, I'm sure they could all retire all too comfortably anyway. The things I care about when it comes to World Cups are: 1) kick-off times; 2) pre-tournament drama and 3) people who know nothing about football and only care "because it's England" being quiet around me while I watch the matches.
Thankfully both Moscow and Doha are only three hours ahead of GMT, so it'll be pretty easy to watch most matches. The various dramas involved with getting South Africa ready on time made great reading and similar stories about Russia and Qatar will be far more interesting, and certainly far less embarrassing, than build-up to a tournament in England could have been. Hopefully, the cultural remoteness of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts might discourage our national team's louder and less-knowledgeable fans from paying too much attention to either tournament. (Or at least discourage them from coming to the pubs where I'll be watching.) And, finally, despite all the speculation about bungs and bribes, I also think there is something romantic about having a World Cup in two parts of the world that haven't experienced one before. Simon Cotterill