The Peter Corrigan Column: Strange games indeed as Chancellor becomes a sudden sporting convert

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The Independent Online

For reasons not immediately discernible, the Government have suddenly thrown themselves into the big-sporting-event-bidding business. Showing an urgency not previously granted to anything to do with sport, they want England to bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Why they have chosen this ridiculously premature moment to announce such an ambition is as bizarre as the man they selected to spring it on us. This Government have had to be badgered or shamed into offering any support for sport over the past eight years and, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown has clung grimly if not proudly to the Treasury's record of providing Europe's lowest investment per capita in sport.

And there he was on Friday presenting himself as a sporting impresario desperate to shower us with the best sporting spectacles the world can offer.

Brown appeared at one photo-call with a ball in his hand and a whistle to his mouth. I suspect it is the same whistle he has blown against any but the most meagre contribution to sport. Without the Lottery money our sporting infrastructure would be even more destitute - and the Treasury are even loath to pass on those proceeds.

It would, he said, be a "magnificent double" for us to add the World Cup to the 2012 Olympics. Apart from the fact that there would be six years between them there is not a lot of comparison.

For a start, one embraces the entire country and the other does not. Having the World Cup in England is not going to do much good for football in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The others will all have to qualify, just as they have to wherever the World Cup is staged, and they will not share in a penny of the profits.

As Brown is a Scot and an alleged football fan, I would have expected him to know that. Perhaps that's his next surprise: we are going to compete in it as Great Britain.

The Football Association seem faintly embarrassed by it all. They are not renowned for moving quickly on any matter, but they can scarcely be blamed for not rushing on this because this is not the time and, quite properly, they will not be making a final decision whether to bid until next autumn.

After Friday's announcement, the bookmakers reduced the odds against England hosting the 2018 event from 10-1 to 8-1. But the favourites are Australia and New Zealand. Fifa have chosen South Africa for the 2010 World Cup and will probably pick a South American country for 2014. But they have recently shown a desire to take the tournament to new areas and Oceania, which includes Australasia, could be lucky in 2018.

In that case the event would not be back in Europe until 2022. Until we are sure on which continent it is likely to be, what is the point of jumping the gun?

And what the hell does the Chancellor want with an expensive feasibility study at this stage? If they care to wait eight months, they can pop over to Germany and see a real World Cup enacted before their very eyes, and then they can make a far more informed judgement on "costs, benefits and legacy".

Besides, does it require much studying to decide on the feasibility of staging the event? Unless, of course, they are worried about the new Wembley stadium being ready in time.

Unlike the Olympic Games, World Cups are certain to make money, especially if you already have the stadiums in place - and England have the best collection in the world.

The other daft question they want answered is what would be England's chances of winning it. It is hard enough judging England's chances for next year, let alone estimating what their playing strength would be by that time. The number of talented youngsters who will be reaching football's adulthood by 2018 may have been thinned out by the scarcity of pitches that remain unsold.

Perhaps it is the approach of his prime ministerial days that persuaded Gordon Brown to step into the sporting glare.

True, it is a positive move, but since the last English attempt to land the World Cup suffered a costly and humiliating end I would have thought that they would have taken a more measured approach this time, and at least made sure that they got the timing right.

Why Keane might be worth a punt

Tiger for sale; not house-trained. Clubs everywhere are even now examining the particulars of Roy Keane, hottest property on the transfer market but too hot for most to handle.

What you would get is guaranteed commitment from the game's fiercest force, hellbent on making a point. At 34 he has a limited span as a top footballer, but if you seek rapid propulsion in an upwards direction he is your man. If you are looking for someone to bring enlightenment and make a fourth at bridge on away trips, perhaps not.

Ladbrokes make Celtic the 4-6 favourites to sign him, and have Arsenal at 66-1. If I was Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, I would put £100,000 on and pay him with the winnings.

Wenger's mind does not work that way, but you would not put it past his Chelsea counterpart, Jose Mourinho. However, in the terse termination agreement with Keane, Manchester United would not have neglected to insert a clause barring him from ever appearing in an opposing team. The parting would not have been sweet sorrow. No warm handshakes, no Sopranos' hugs. No looking back, no tears. And it will be fascinating over the next year or so to see who ends up with the most regrets.

The great undished - losers again

The many millions of us who can't or won't get hooked up to satellite television were not well served by the deal hatched at the European Commission last week.

We, the great undished, had been led to believe that Brussels were insisting that Sky's monopoly on Premier League games would be broken and that some matches would leak on to the paupers' screens, otherwise known as terrestrial TV.

Sadly, no. Fierce lobbying from the clubs, Sky and ministers persuaded the Commission to fudge the issue so that little changes.

The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, greeted it with the words: "This is good news for the fans."

The poor girl rarely gets it right. It means nothing for the fans. Sky will still get the vast majority of games, with the rest likely to go to some other satellite or cable company, and the cost of the service will certainly not drop.

The one bright spot is that part of the price for governmental assistance in this matter is that the Premier League will increase the share of the proceeds to the Football League from the current five per cent to six per cent.

The rest of the price is that the Murdoch-owned press will continue to beam brightly on the Government's other activities.

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