After five years of planning and an 18-month, £15m campaign to win votes around the world, England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup ended in humiliation and isolation on the global stage yesterday.
Just two votes were won out of a possible 22 – and one of those came from England's own representative on the international voting panel. It was a brutal rejection by the leaders of Fifa, the sport's international governing body, who had been personally courted by a delegation that included David Cameron and Prince William.
England's bid crashed out in the first round of voting by the Fifa executive committee having won fewer votes than even the Holland-Belgium joint bid, which was widely tipped to finish last.
Russia won the right to host the 2018 tournament comfortably with Qatar winning the 2022 tournament. The decision to choose the two nations under the greatest suspicion of corruption prompted further questions about the probity of Fifa's process to select World Cup hosts.
The chief executive of the Russian bid, Alexey Sorokin, told members of England's bid team on Wednesday that he believed his country had already secured the necessary number of votes to win the rights. Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who owns Chelsea Football Club, was on stage for the Russian celebrations.
The decision was a huge blow to members of the English football establishment, who had earlier in the day put on an impressive presentation featuring Mr Cameron, Prince William and the former England captain David Beckham. No other country got close to England for star names in Zurich, but it mattered little in the end.
Beckham admitted he was "crushed" by the result. Prince William stayed for the announcement of the results but left without speaking to the media. Mr Cameron, who returned to London after the presentations, described the result as "desperately sad".
As suspicion of a Fifa fix spread, only the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, from the delegation, was explicit in his criticism of the organisation: "Fifa cannot last in this current form."
Minutes before the official announcement, the result was conveyed to the English delegation by Geoff Thompson, the former Football Association chairman, who is a member of the 22-man Fifa executive committee (ExCo) which votes on the World Cup hosts. Only Mr Thompson and the Japanese ExCo member Junji Ogura voted for the English bid.
Mr Thompson apparently told English colleagues that the vote was a reaction to the BBC Panorama programme on Monday alleging corruption in Fifa and, previous to that, The Sunday Times investigation that led to two ExCo members being suspended. The governing body is notoriously sensitive to criticism and paranoid about scrutiny of its financial affairs.
The chief executive of the 2018 bid, Andy Anson, admitted that the bid team had been lied to by Fifa ExCo members who had promised to vote for England. Mr Anson said: "I do feel that some people let us down. I would be lying if I said they didn't. Clearly people who promised us their vote didn't vote for us."
Chief among them is the Trinidad government minister Jack Warner, one of three ExCo members representing the Concacaf region (North and Central America and the Caribbean) who had long been identified by the English bid as the cornerstone of their voting bloc.
A former schoolteacher who has had a remarkable rise to power in world football, Mr Warner controls all three Concacaf votes and has been courted assiduously by the English. Beckham and the England team travelled to Port of Spain in 2008 to play a friendly at his behest. Beckham returned to hold a coaching clinic there this year. Mr Cameron and Prince William also feted Mr Warner over the past week.
Yesterday Mr Warner returned the favour by delivering his three votes elsewhere – probably to Russia. He has long been a target for the investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, who confronted him in the Panorama show over an alleged attempted ticket fraud.Reuse content