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It’s almost a year now since England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup football finals was controversially rejected by the sport’s governing body, Fifa.

The decision continues to cause consternation, not just among the ordinary people in England, but among many important and influential figures in public life.

If you’ll pardon the pun, it just wasn’t cricket.

And so, finally, from none other than London’s Olympics chairman, Sebastian Coe, we have a realistic assessment of why this happened.

Let’s cast our minds back to last December. All the big guns had been wheeled out for the bid; Prince William, the Prime Minister David Cameron, and of course Roy of the Rovers himself, David Beckham, had all lent their faces to the campaign to bring football home.

I’m not English, but I really wanted them to get it. I was a tad too young to be able to afford tickets and travel to watch any matches in Euro 96, and it’d be great to see a World Cup so close to home. If there were any spare tickets for Peru vs Burkino Faso, I’d have been right in there.

The World Cup touches any football fan with a sense of wonder and awe; something childlike, something incorruptibly exciting taking place in high summer. We mark our lives with World Cups, we football fans, little snapshots of the people we are and the people we used to be every four years. It’s a big deal for us.

The sense of disappointment when Russia was named as the tournament hosts was palpable; everyone involved simply couldn’t believe it. Even the bitterest Celt would have to admit that England should have been in the final two bids, at the very least.

Hostility and suspicion quickly followed.

England had the bid, the stadiums, the pedigree, the funding, the security and an underlying infrastructure which, it was felt, was unrivalled by any of the other bidders. And yet they were soundly beaten in the first round ballot of Fifa’s executive committee. Joint bids from Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium were both held to be stronger, while Russia’s was named as the eventual winner. Here, England’s performance was more reminiscent of World Cup campaigns from Scotland of years gone by.

The winning bid for the 2022 tournament was also named at the same time; that of well-known footballing super-power Qatar, nudging aside presentations from South Korea, Japan, the United States and Australia.

Technically speaking, there was an element of fairness in these decisions in that neither nation has hosted a World Cup before, and having the tournaments in both countries could be seen as beneficial for development and legacy – the terms thrown around to counter any silly notion that the World Cup is simply a gigantic cash cow.

Money is a consideration, of course. There will be lots of oligarchs in Russia looking forward to a nice fillip for their businesses, while Qatar always seems as if it is a country short of a bob or two.

Step forward Lord Coe. The Olympic champion and former Conservative MP has been front-and-centre for London’s successful bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012. Whatever your opinion of the man, it is very hard to fault the job he’s done – or at least, the facade he has presented. The man is a winner, with the gold medals to show for it. He’s media-savvy, articulate, looks good on the telly, is hardly shy and retiring and, lest anyone forget, he has been a professional politician for many years. Let’s look at what Lord Coe thought of the failed World Cup bid.

The BBC quotes him thus: “I don’t think English football has enough people of influence at the highest level of the game.

“I think in track and field we clearly now do. I think in the Olympic world we clearly now do. But I think football doesn’t really punch its weight in these corridors.

“Sometimes we confuse the power and global reach of the Premier League with influence in the corridors of power in the administration of the game.”

So there we have it, folks. Apologies for calling the pope a Catholic here, but: snaring major world sporting events is not anything to do with how good or fair your bid is. There is something outwith our ideas of common meritocracy on the go, something unseen and, to me, unaccountable.

It has to do with a very curious notion of “punching your weight” in the “corridors of power”. What does this mean, exactly?

There’s plenty of evidence to show that Lord Coe’s assertion about Britain’s “punch” is spot on – just look at the UK’s track record in bagging athletics events of late; the 2012 Olympics, the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2017 World Championships are all heading to these shores.

And to think I joked at the time that England should probably have considered throwing in a few suitcases full of grubby tenners to help grease the wheels of their World Cup bid. For all I know, perhaps this is what “punching one’s weight” is all about.

If sporting administration isn’t about a fair contest carried out under strict rules run by unimpeachable officials, then what chance do the sports themselves have?

What we appear to be talking about here is a pecking order, a hierarchy, and the type of backroom deals that you would hope were starting to disappear in a world where information flows more freely and officials are much more accountable than they were in the analogue past.

But then I guess I’m dreadfully naive here; I have a bit of an Olympic ideal in me, a sense that hard work, a level playing field and natural talent are all anyone needs to succeed in this life. Right? And not the kind of administrative freemasonry, nepotism, games-playing and outright corruption which we have come to associate with the top percentile of the world’s movers and shakers in a free-market, profiteering conservative world.

A true Olympian, Lord Coe knows exactly what I’m talking about.


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