Time for end of the world as we know it

It was a misbegotten, ill-designed and extravagant adventure that always carried a plaintive air of failure despite the bravado of forecasts of triumph
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The Independent Online

Out-stinking even the putrid England campaign, the aroma rising pungently from the Fifa congress in Zurich on Thursday should cause even that hard-nosed organisation to find an entirely new way of selecting future host countries for the World Cup.

Out-stinking even the putrid England campaign, the aroma rising pungently from the Fifa congress in Zurich on Thursday should cause even that hard-nosed organisation to find an entirely new way of selecting future host countries for the World Cup.

The existing process is at best farcical and at worst corruptible, and has far too many uncomfortable parallels with the discredited, and in some cases illegal, methods used by the International Olympic Committee in choosing between host candidates for the Games.

Despite accusations of bribery, which are to be the subject of an inquiry, there is no evidence yet visible that Fifa delegates have developed the art of the personal bung to Olympic standards, but there's proof aplenty of political wheeler-dealing on a grand scale. Only the slightest difference in morality lies between the backhand and the underhand.

Whether crooked or not, by elevating the final selection to a drama that could be sold to world-wide television, Fifa contributed to the overwhelming feeling that they have pumped up the procedure to explosion point, and there were ominous signs of a body preening itself in the reflection of its own importance. The victims were the losing bidders and, in particular, South Africa, who suffered a huge setback in national morale after being lured into the impression that the world was going to give them an event upon which they could focus part of their country's urge for salvation.

At least their losing bid brought them sympathy. England's attempt has brought nothing but derision, and the only mitigation I can offer is that the main blemish of the bidding system is that it encourages rival countries to outdo each other in fawning. We proved to be wonderfully adept at that.

Sadly, those Fifa ingrates gave nothing but a burp in return for being wined and dined in the earth's finest establishments, personally entertained at a palace banquet by our top prince and glad-handed by two of England's finest football legends - and we don't have many of those to spare.

The result of the campaign was a humiliation that should leave a scar far deeper than England's early exit from Euro 2000. At least our deficiencies on the pitch did not come as a shock. The fact that over £10m was squandered with carefree abandon on such a forlorn hope reveals a much more distressing lack of tactical skill.

These judgements cannot be accused of being largely composed of hindsight. They were uttered in this space at the start of the campaign and repeated regularly during it. Neither was I alone. Indeed, I'm experiencing a rare attack of pride in my profession. Gnarled old buzzards many of us may be but, almost to a man, the cadre of sporting columnists in this country have been catcalling from the touchline ever since this miserable operation first began.

It was a misbegotten, illdesigned and extravagant adventure that always carried a plaintive air of failure despite the bravado with which they forecast eventual triumph. The campaign was misbegotten because of a shortage of genuine parentage. There was no mandate, let alone clamour, from the public, and the Government only became interested on the promise of reflected glory.

Had there been a nod or a wink from Fifa that a bid from us would have been looked upon kindly, it would have been right for England to respond. No one is arguing against the benefits of staging a World Cup. But the opposite was the case. Our entry into the race not only was against Uefa's wishes, it broke a gentleman's agreement with Germany to support their 2006 bid in return for their help in obtaining Euro 96.

That immediately made it a gamble, and a long-shot at that. The question of whether such arrogance has been worth the expense, the attendant problems such as Manchester United's self-exclusion from last season's FA Cup and, now, this humiliating indignity has to be answered with a resounding no.

The whole affair might have been forgivable had we adopted a different strategy. Despite being the founders of the game, we have little standing in the world because of our pig-headed refusal to join Fifa in its difficult formative years before the war. But we could have used our fatherly role to make an application yet opt out of the bidding circus.

We could have merely submitted the details of our stadiums, costings, etc, and invited Fifa to ask any questions or make any visits. Such a move would have cost very little and set an example. Unfortunately, we preferred the old colonialist approach. Instead of conquering with soldiers bearing guns, we tried it with back-slappers carrying menus.

Working on the principle that Fifa delegates are incapable of listening to persuasion unless they have a mouthful of caviar, weembarked on a crusade apparently designed to sweep them off their feet. Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world. But he was on a ship; these hearties have done it several times on a dinner table.

Thus, our bedraggled campaigners are left with nothing but the consolation that if ever it is decided to stage a World Cup in corporate hospitality we will be hot favourites to be hosts. In its long and unctuous course, England's bid set new standards in lavish pandering.

The proceedings were not without the odd comic irony. The Fifa technical committee who came to examine the facilities had the full blast of grovelling with motorcades, helicopters, Park Lanehotels and a banquet at Hampton Court hosted by Prince Charles. Probably working on the theory that anyone who goes to this much trouble to lush them up must have something to hide, they denounced the facilities as second-rate.

This strained the diplomatic skills of Tony Banks to the limit, and he came out with one of his wisecracks to the effect that they must also believe that Elvis Presley is on the moon. Even if they did, they would still have a firmer grip on reality than he appears to have.

Banks has collected much of the criticism aimed at England's campaign, but it should be pointed out that it was already steaming in the wrong direction before he was co-opted as the Government's special envoy - probably, the German government. Nevertheless, Banks' future involvement in sport ought to be considered carefully.

Not only does he lack the touch of a sporting Midas, he does seem to get in the way of progress. After three years in a powerful role his only legacy appears to be the issuing of credibility to David Mellor. A formidable feat, but not one for which you would wish to be remembered.

One or two misconceptions about England's World Cup bid need to be cleared up. Our hooligans at Charleroi didn't help, but to put the failure down to them is ludicrous. Neither does the fact that we have not had the World Cup since 1966 merit any sympathy. Our hooligan problem was so bad in the 1980s we just didn't have the cheek to apply, and rightly so.

We can similarly dismiss the idea that the money has been well spent because our stock in world football has increased. If anything, they probably have an even lower opinion of us.

The only way in which we can feel better about our campaign is if it leads to a Fifa rethink. Their own inquiry into the voting, or non-voting, at Zurich may add to theurgency to replace the existing system with one that is directed from within Fifa by a committee armed with an atlas and a set of criteria of what a country needs to be a host. Their decision should be based on pure facts, not on persuasion. The bidding process attracts far too much misbehaviour.

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