England`s World Cup bid undermined by off-field dramas
LONDON: Most of the drama in soccer happens on the pitch but anyone seeking a few thrills away from the action would have got their fix by following England`s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup finals over the last 18 months.
England`s bid is technically superb in terms of stadiums, facilities, infrastructure and projected record income and is fuelled by a driving passion to bring the tournament back to the motherland of soccer for the first time since 1966.
FIFA`s recent inspection team and subsequent evaluation report gave its joint-highest ranking to the bid, rating it as "low risk" with just two minor complaints over hotel rooms and training grounds.
Despite these strengths, the bid has been blighted by political indiscretions and errors with an unforgiving domestic media analysing every step of its roller-coaster process.
Earlier this year, bid chairman David Triesman resigned after making comments about rival bidders Spain and Russia which left his position untenable.
The bid has also antagonised the highly influential FIFA vice-president Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago, while the English media have had a dramatic impact on the campaign.
Andy Anson, the bid`s chief executive, has maintained his optimism throughout the somewhat tortured journey.
"We analysed the media coverage of the different bids in different countries -- for example Spanish bid stories in the Spanish media -- and there were 10 times more stories about our bid than any other country in this race. That is staggering," he told a media briefing last week.
"If you have that many more stories, you are going to get some negative stuff. The football press in this country has a huge impact, it reflects the passion for football here and is often very positive. So we remain very positive that we can be successful when FIFA votes on December 2."
The impact of media interest in England`s bid has led directly to action being taken against FIFA Executive Committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii.
They were due to cast their votes on Thursday but have now been suspended and fined by FIFA after an investigation by The Sunday Times newspaper alleged they were prepared to sell their votes for cash.
The fallout from that -- and a BBC documentary on alleged FIFA corruption due to be broadcast later on Monday -- is regarded as the most serious threat to England`s campaign.
Earlier this month, the bid committee wrote to FIFA distancing itself from the British media, but the fear remains that FIFA will shy away from giving the World Cup to England because it fears further media investigation.
"That is something we have to convince them is not the case," said Anson. "We remain hugely positive about our chances. The feedback we have had from FIFA has been incredibly supportive."
England says it is time the World Cup came back to its shores because, by 2018, 52 years would have passed since it last hosted the event.
Much has, of course, changed since 1966, with the Premier League now regarded as the most commercially successful and popular in the world and with the hugely popular David Beckham a key ambassador and one of the true greats of the world game.
England, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter remarked when he met Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street last month, has ridded itself of the hooligan curse that blighted the game in the 1980s and is now a shining example to the rest of the world.
The rebuilt Wembley is one of the world`s top stadiums, and everywhere from Newcastle to London most of the infrastructure is in place.
Paradoxically this could be a drawback. Soccer is so entrenched in England`s social fabric that having a World Cup would not significantly develop the game further domestically.
However, the bid committee say that projected ticket sales alone would give FIFA record profits to spread the game around the world.