Triesman's loose tongue has not pronounced last rites on World Cup bid
England's hopes of hosting the 2018 finals have often looked to be fading but, says Nick Harris, the political realities are unchanged
Monday 17 May 2010
On several previous occasions, England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup has been pronounced dead, yet has still got up and walked on. There is no reason why the weekend's latest terrible PR episode will be any more fatal than previous bouts.
It goes without saying that Lord Triesman's unsubstantiated allegation in a private conversation about the Russian and Spanish bids for 2018 – that Russia would help Spain to bribe referees at this summer's World Cup, then Russia would pick up Spain's support when the latter dropped out the 2018 race – was outrageous. That's why Triesman lost his job so rapidly.
Faxed apologies were on their way to Spain and Russia before most people had even become aware of the story, via a Mail On Sunday buy-up of a covertly taped dinner conversation.
Lord Coe, a respected international sporting statesman involved with 2018 as well in charge of the 2012 Olympics, was also on the phone yesterday to Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, running as fast as he ever did on a track in the opposite direction from Triesman's comments. But those apologies and that distancing are not the only reasons that the latest upheaval won't end England's chances.
One reason is that England's bid itself remains as identically excellent as it did last week. Another is that the people who will ultimately decide who gets to stage the tournament remain the same 24 men – Fifa's executive committee. And they will still cast their votes on 2 December through the same self-interest and for the same reasons related to politics, football and technical excellence as they would have done anyway, and not because of two sentences of tittle-tattle maliciously flogged to a paper in mid-May, six and a half months before the crucial vote.
If every setback of the England 2018 campaign so far had really left the bid dead, as has been stated over and over again, then the bid is an indestructible zombie.
The influential Fifa vice-president Jack Warner – censured by Fifa's own ethics committee in the past for ticket touting – called the bid lightweight last October. Cue doom, deepened when Warner returned a Mulberry handbag destined for his wife.
By November the bid was, apparently, truly dead this time, when the bid board was restructured as the rift between Triesman and Sir Dave Richards of the Premier League was aired again.
Then Richards resigned, and the bid was dead again, deader even than before, and then Karren Brady expressed concern about "internal politics" being damaging, and the dead bid died some more.
In January the bid was dead again, this time because Hull City's Phil Brown had noticed that Angola, where Togo's squad was murderously ambushed at the start of the Africa Cup of Nations, was on the same continent as South Africa, hosts of the 2010 World Cup, and suggested danger ahead.
As recently as early this month, Blatter was talking up Russia's candidacy, and apparently talking down England's chances when he said: "We know England can stage the World Cup. But England winning – I am not so sure. I was in Russia recently and what they presented is remarkable."
After so many deaths, England's bid should be deader than a Monty Python parrot. But most of the world hasn't noticed. In particular, most of the executive committee members haven't noticed, busy as they have been receiving delegations from England's 2018 team, including chief executive Andy Anson, VIPs such as Sir Bobby Charlton, a variety of local ambassadorial figures, and sometimes Triesman.
He is now gone, and replacing him will be another figurehead, Geoff Thompson. David Dein, the former vice-chairman of Arsenal and the FA, and Coe will be able fence-mending deputies, with six months to work in. That's an epoch in football politics.
The bigger picture is that the voting will still unfold because of what's in the best interests of the 24 voters. Much more significant than what Triesman did or didn't allege is whether the 2018 vote will be for a "Europe only" tournament. Blatter is hinting this will be the case but hasn't confirmed it officially. A "Europe only" decision would change the whole dynamic of the vote. For now six bid teams are in contention for 2018: Australia, Belgium-Netherlands jointly, England, Russia, Portugal-Spain jointly, and the US. Those nations plus Japan, South Korea and Qatar are also bidding for 2022.
If 2018 becomes a Europe-only vote, England will be up against only the Low Countries' bid, Russia and Iberia for 2018, while Australia, America, Japan, South Korea and Qatar would be left to fight for 2022.
Officially, no two voters should collude, but historical bloc voting is a matter of fact and will happen again. "Europe only" or not, the 2018 race will be infinitely more complex than what Triesman did or didn't say in May 2010.
Public opinion is utterly irrelevant. England will still win or lose on good stadiums (or not), legacy (or not), attractive commercial returns for Fifa, and good old carve-ups.
RIVAL 2018 BIDS
*Success of 2000 Olympics and 2003 Rugby World Cup bodes well, but Fifa may prefer northern hemisphere.
*Looking to build on success of 2000 European Championship, although Fifa is not keen on another joint hosting.
*Sheer size of the country presents difficulties but seen as dark horse.
*Spain's hosting of the event more recently than any other European bidder may count against them, as could both countries' economic difficulties.
*Growing passion for the game and fine infrastructure. Could hold more hope of getting the 2022 tournament.
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