What to do with ‘The Ashes’ of the FIFA World Cup

In 1882, England lost a test cricket match at the Oval to Australia and The Sporting Times wrote a mock obituary declaring the defeat as the death of English cricket. It stated that “the body has been cremated and the ashes will be taken to Australia.” The next English tour to Australia was then dubbed ‘the quest to regain the ashes’ and from there a great sporting tournament was spawned.

Now, this article has no hope of making anywhere near the same impact as the obituary in The Sporting Times all those years ago, but it does wish to make two similar points. Firstly, the announcement that Russia and Qatar will, respectively, host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups signals the death of the FIFA World Cup. Secondly, a new tournament should be created in its place.

This may seem extreme but the fact that England’s bid received just one vote out of twenty-one FIFA officials (once you subtract England’s sole FIFA representative Geoff Thomas) shows that as long as the World Cup is preceded by the word ‘FIFA’, it can no longer be taken seriously.

To outline the multitude of strengths of the English bid would be pointless, as everyone reading this will already be familiar with most of them. To compare the bid with that of Russia would be about as productive as comparing breathing with holding your breath indefinitely in a discussion about survival techniques.

People may argue that a Russian World Cup would create a better legacy than if the competition were staged in England. But that notion means that every positive feature a bidding country has would then count as a negative. On that basis, Team England should prepare for their next World Cup bid by knocking down Wembley, Old Trafford and The Emirates Stadium. They should then sneak into parks and playgrounds all around the country armed with pins and burst the footballs young children are playing with. They could even rip up their Premier League sticker books as well. Better still, ban football entirely from the country for a few years, make us all forget about it and then go to FIFA and present them with the legacy of bringing football to a country that doesn’t even play it. Although, on second thoughts, they are already doing that in 2022 so they might not want to repeat the trick.

The whole idea of legacy is, of course, complete rubbish. It’s an easy one-liner that allows FIFA to hand the tournament to whichever team has cut the most deals. It means that the comparative strengths of the rival bids can be simply dismissed on the notion that one will create a better ‘legacy’ than the other. That cannot possibly be proved one way or the other as we won’t know until after the tournament has been hosted. With Qatar in 2022, it must be some legacy FIFA has planned, given that the country has a population of just 1.7 million. The twelve planned stadiums for 2022 will have a combined capacity of approximately 500,000; almost a third of the country’s entire population. Needless to say, the stadiums, or what’s left of them after their top tiers are removed after the tournament, will hardly be thriving with spectators after the World Cup has been and gone.

The biggest legacy that Qatar will be left with is a crippling debt as billions of pounds, or Riyals if you are thinking of exchanging your money for a trip to the Arab state in twelve years time, will have been spent on artificially manufacturing a country that is fit to host the World Cup. The cost to Russia, though dwarfed by what Qatar will need to spend, will also be huge as they attempt to build nine stadiums in eight years.

At least, in the case of Russia, the idea of legacy possesses more than an ounce of credibility. But the fact that England gained just one out of only twenty-one possible votes, despite all the bid’s obvious strengths, shows that FIFA as an organisation is inherently flawed.

As there are so few voters, each vote carries far too much weight. Rather than focusing on the strengths of their bids, the World Cup bidding teams spend their whole time wining and dining FIFA’s executive members and playing friendlies in each member’s home country. A far bigger electorate, comprised of a fair number of independent arbiters, would make the whole process far harder to corrupt. Such changes are very unlikely to ever take place in the FIFA hierarchy however, as they would never willingly relinquish any of their monopolised power.

One solution therefore would be for someone to form a rival for FIFA. An alternative organisation that hosts a new international tournament would certainly give Sepp Blatter and co. something to think about. The competition wouldn’t have to be huge to begin with. It could start, much as the World Cup did in 1930, as a small competition and grow over time. The first one could be staged in 2017, a year before the 2018 World Cup, with an open invitation being sent out to any nations that wanted to enter. To avoid any FIFA rulings, it could be declared a friendly tournament to begin with. If a few big nations agreed to participate, it would certainly attract crowds and the media and therefore make enough money to sustain itself. If the first one were a success, more could follow. Eventually, the competition could rival the World Cup and countries could decide to leave FIFA and join the new organization. Alternatively, and more likely, a potential rival could scare FIFA into making the changes that must be made to their corrupt organisation. That would be a tournament with a true legacy.

So, with media rights, supporter interest and a few big nations in the bag, all this breakaway tournament would need is a decent host. A country with stadiums that are already built and a public who would readily flock to the matches. Hmmm… I wonder who that could be…

Craig Wilmann

One Comment
  • Jackson
    23 December 2010 at 02:21
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    One of the reasons FIFA did not choose England was due to the Panorama documentary, with FIFA saying that it “went over the line.”

    Oh, so NOW they pay attention to things going over lines…

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