England's worst away defeat ever: Fifa 'cannot be trusted', says bid boss

We weren't naive, says the team, just lied to. But calls to reform the world game will put the troubled English FA in the spotlight
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The Independent Football

Football is going to "new lands", said Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter. In one short sentence the Swiss septuagenarian boss of world football crushed the hopes of an England World Cup bid team seeking to bring the finals to England in 2018. Disappointment rapidly turned to dismay when it was revealed that, far from the English having been in with good chance of securing football's lucrative top tournament, it had suffered the ignominy of being eliminated in the first ballot after garnering the votes of only two supporters – one of them England's own representative.

Expectations of coming from behind on the final stretch as London did to clinch the 2012 Olympic Games had risen in the previous 24 hours. As the bid team went to bed on Wednesday night, the eve of the deciding ballot, they declared it was "too close to call".

Whether it was thwarted ambition, dashed anticipation or hubris, the loss to Russia was brutal, according to members of the bid team. England had been betrayed: "stabbed in the back" by members of Fifa's executive committee who had promised votes but then reneged.

In some quarters, the disappointment of failure quickly distilled into bitter recrimination. The winning bids of Russia (2018) and the Gulf emirate of Qatar (2022) were dissected with scalpels dipped in acid. Both bids were technically and economically inferior to England's, critics raged. Neither winner had the stadiums, the fan-base, the infrastructure or the administrative expertise to match the nation that gave the world the game. Hadn't Fifa's own experts warned that giving the World Cup to Russia was a "high risk" and that awarding it to Qatar, where summer temperatures are so hot they pose a health hazard to players and supporters alike, was equally perilous?

When a gas mark 10 flame was used to heat the stirring indignation, protests quickly bubbled over into xenophobic rants and even racism. Russia was a "kleptocracy" run by the mafia was one response. Another commentator warned that Qatar was "a soulless, featureless, air-conditioned, cramped place with little connection to football". Its victory was "as if Fifa was saying 'to hell with the fans'," the pundit continued, stating that Qatar 2022 will be a "joyless experience for supporters".

Fuelling the rage was a belief that the English had been cheated of what was theirs by right. It seemed obvious to many that money had talked and merit had been put to the back of the queue. Fifa is a notoriously secretive organisation with a demonstrable track record for unabashed corruption. Much was made of this in the run-up to the final bid process by Britain's vigorous muck-racking media. The Sunday Times and the reporter Andrew Jennings, working for the BBC's Panorama programme, had produced damagingly well-researched allegations of graft among Fifa's committee members, resulting in two being suspended from taking part. The belief that England was being punished for its media which held people in power to account seemed self-evident when it was revealed that Mr Blatter's final words to those about to cast their ballots was a warning about media intrusion.

Nor was the reaction about the result confined to England. From President Obama to humble fans everywhere, people said that, in awarding the finals to Moscow and Doha, Fifa had got it wrong. In their minds, the perverse result confirmed that Fifa, far from being a beacon spreading the warmth and light of football's family gospel, remained a black hole of backroom dealing, political shenanigans and money laundering.

England's last-place finish might well be retribution for media probes, although Mario Lefkaritis, the Fifa member from Cyprus denies it in today's Independent on Sunday. But Fifa's decisions in Zurich have only stimulated the determination of investigators to shine a light into its darker recesses. Fifa is already facing further allegations of bribery and corruption after it was claimed that Argentinian support for the victorious 2022 Qatari bid was secured with the assistance of a $78.4m (£50m) payment to the Argentine Football Association to help it out of a financial crisis. The claims, from a former employee of the Qatari bid, have been denied by the Argentinians, but others are certain to follow.

Fifa is facing renewed calls for reform. In The Independent on Sunday today, David Mellor, the former Tory minister and football pundit, has called for a concerted political push by EU ministers to effect change at Fifa. Others have advocated withdrawing from international football and encouraging the other soccer powers in Europe and South America to go it alone, away from Fifa. Others question the viability of international football altogether, content to bask in the reflected glory of the Premier League, one of the world's most popular in terms of TV audiences, and the Europe's Champions League. Critics of this approach argue that such behaviour is like taking one's ball home in a sulk after losing.

A coherent response will take time to emerge from the English FA. On Friday, its acting chairman, Roger Burden said he would not seek the post full-time. Mr Burden, who assumed the role after the resignation of Lord Triesman earlier this year, said he would remain as acting chairman until a successor could be found. "I recognise that an important part of the role is liaison with Fifa, our global governing body," he said. "I am not prepared to deal with people whom I cannot trust, and I have withdrawn my candidacy. They are not men of their word," he said yesterday.

Any attempts by the FA to call for reform will mean it will face similar calls to put its own house in order. Ivan Lewis, the shadow sports minister, has demanded an independent inquiry, and the House of Commons select committee is set to investigate. While the UK government has so far been mute on the fiasco, it will not be happy that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Prince William, who with former England captain David Beckham, publicly fronted the English bid, will have been touched by its failure. The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, might be the man to knock the heads that run English football together, but others before him have tried and failed.

Divisions in the highest echelons of the English game certainly handicapped the bid. Early rows between the FA and the Premier League, clashes of temperament between Lord Triesman and Geoff Thompson, his predecessor at the FA and England's Fifa committee member, together with damaging leaks of other rows meant the bid struggled to achieve coherence.

Critics questioned why Mike Lee, the Englishman credited with helping London and Rio gain the Olympics, was not hired. Last week, Mr Lee was one of the few smiling Englishmen in Zurich, having masterminded the Qatari bid. Andy Anson, who did lead the English bid, is respected and insists they weren't "naive" but has still to explain how it was they were suckered so completely by people like Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president, who allegedly promised three votes to England but delivered none.

Most fans will be disappointed at missing the opportunity to host a top-class international football tournament, but a quick survey of some of the most popular fan sites suggests they are more interested in winning the World Cup than hosting it.

Within European and world football circles the FA is too often seen as arrogant and aloof, or parochial. As a result, it has failed to recognise the shifting power of football eastwards, away from the traditional strongholds. Sepp Blatter, a wily political operator, has noticed this. With one eye firmly on his own re-election, he has deftly manoeuvred between the old and new football worlds.

England expected... The seven whose votes never materialised

Jack Warner The Trinidad & Tobago representative is Fifa vice-president. An MP, he has faced many accusations of impropriety.

Chuck Blazer US member of Fifa executive admitted politics played a part in voting. Said it was clear to him England could not win.

Rafael Salguero The Guatemalan member, a solicitor, met Prince William in Zurich ahead of the vote. Has been on the executive since 2007.

Marios Lefkaritis The Cypriot entrepreneur is honorary president of the Cyprus FA. Denies promising his vote to England.

Chung Mong-Joon A member of South Korea's parliament, the president of the country's FA believes "football is a school of life".

Senes Erzik The consultant is Uefa vice-president and honorary president of the Turkish football association.

Jacques Anouma The Ivory Coast delegate's fondest footballing memory is the Ivory Coast qualifying for the World Cup in Germany in 2006.

World Cup 2022: The man behind Qatar's winning bid? An Englishman, of all people

Mike Lee was one of the few happy Englishmen in Zurich last week. His joy was not at England's plight but at the success of Qatar, awarded the 2022 tournament.

Observers of the FA's campaign are perplexed why Mr Lee and his London firm Vero Communications, were overlooked by the FA to lead England's bid. Mr Lee was quoted as saying: "It is about two years of global campaigning. You don't win in the final stretch."

He is no stranger to success, having acted as a special adviser to Seb Coe during London's 2012 Olympic bid and has been credited with masterminding Rio's 2016 bid.

Initially regarded as a long shot, Qatar quietly used its wealth to win friends in Fifa. Despite never having qualified for the World Cup – it's ranked 113 – it has marketed itself variously as the Arab or Middle Eastern champion as well as an example to smaller nations.

Critics have queried Qatar's plan to donate its redundant stadiums after the tournament to poor Fifa nations. Altruistic or cynical, the scheme helped win over Fifa's executive committee.

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