Come 2006, half the people involved in the bid will be dead and some other pursuit will have captured the electorate's fancy

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The Independent Online
In one of his splendid communications from our former transatlantic colonies, Alistair Cooke referred to advice Jimmy Carter received from a political columnist when about to begin his term as president of the United States.

Twenty numbered tips were set out for the new president. Most were to do with "prudent" political strategy. But the last three were about sport. "Don't," Carter was urged, "use football lingo as a way of encouraging your party. Don't talk about team play, or coming through in the last quarter, or giving it that old one-two. Don't invite athletes to the White House for dinner. Don't invite athletes ever. Have the courage to decide with Harry Truman that: 'Sports is a lot of damn nonsense'."

You may have already guessed I am coming around to how quickly John Major and Tony Blair pledged support for England's attempt to stage the 2006 World Cup when it became evident that Germany had got off to a flier.

This is known as political expediency. What it implies, worryingly to my mind, is an electorate so besotted with football that the prospect of staging a tournament is considered to be a vote-catcher. Never mind the serious issues of welfare, education and employment, and the great debate over Europe; promise to get the ball rolling here in nine years' time and we are with you.

Coming from a nation that knows little of international competition, Truman probably would have found this baffling. Even so, times have changed. Few now project the lame argument that sport and politics don't mix. Sports sanctions were critical to the great changes that have occurred in South Africa. As the most thrilling virtuoso boxing has ever seen, Muhammad Ali's alignment with the Nation of Islam helped to internationalise black consciousness as much as anybody.

However, this week's events, carrying the unavoidable influence of party spin doctors, were altogether more contrived and tricky. The Minister for Sport was careful to stress that the dispute was with Uefa (the game's European governing body) not with Germany, but Euro-sceptics were not about to pass up the chance for what was indelicately described elsewhere this week as "Hun bashing".

Inevitably, there was input from David Mellor, whose Saturday night Radio 5 Live programme has descended to the level of an inquisition pandering to sycophantic calls from disgruntled football supporters demanding the heads of unsuccessful managers.

As all this relates to an event that is not due to take place until the summer of 2006, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. Is it not also true that the popular slogan of Euro 96 - Football's Coming Home - bore more than a slight touch of arrogance. Inspired by the 1966 World Cup victory, it blithely ignored the fact that until then England had not achieved anything.

Of course, that England did not win Euro 96 is neither here nor there. Brilliantly organised, the tournament was trouble-free and, doubtless to the delight of Uefa, immensely profitable. It went a long way to repairing the damaged reputation of English football, but did not set up any sort of prior claim for the next but one World Cup to be held in Europe.

It will be clear to most people by now that the way these things are shared out involves a great deal of politicking and often chicanery. For example, anyone who believes that locating the 1994 World Cup in the United States was about missionary zeal should count every last penny they receive in change. It was about profit. The game's supreme nation, Brazil, have not staged the World Cup since 1950. Selected for 1986, they withdrew because of economic difficulties.

Another thing to bear in mind is that much can happen in nine years. There is no guarantee, for instance, that the game in this country will remain so overwhelmingly popular. On Sky Television this week, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, Alan Sugar, posed the question of what happens when the money runs out - meaning will it keep pouring in?

On the same programme, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, gave a gravitational warning. What goes up must come down. Remember too that following a riot by England supporters less than a year before Euro 96, the widespread view was that the tournament should be relocated. And what will be the effect of television's digital revolution on football viewing?

Hang around sport long enough, and you are pretty certain to end up as cynical as I may appear to be. So why all the commotion? Cynically thinking, come 2006 half the people involved will be dead and some other pursuit may have captured the electorate's fancy.

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