So FIFA is corrupt, full of Executive members who look you in the eye and lie, and England is taking its ball home.

Should such a statement be put to the British public today, I am quite certain it would receive unanimous support. Even before the Zurich debacle, FIFA, and in particular President Sepp Blatter, would have struggled to win a popularity contest in the mother land of football. But I have rarely seen a country and its media so united in its condemnation of the organisation.

Yet England and the Football Association will make a historic mistake if it goes down this route. For it will confuse two issues. There is the question of reform of FIFA. Then there is the question of how the Zurich vote went and who is supposed to have lied to whom. Lies that were told, not only to the English, but also it seems to the Australians. They expected six votes in the first round and got only one. Indeed, you could say Australia did just as well as England. One of the two to vote for England was Geoff Thompson, an Englishman. I am sure Australia would have got a second vote except the member from the Oceania Confederation, Reynald Temarii, was disqualified from voting.

Consider first FIFA reform. That such reform is necessary cannot be denied. So bizarre are the workings of FIFA, that not only is the voting totally secret but at one stage on Thursday we were informed we would not be told which country had been eliminated in which round. The only thing we would be told was the name of the winner. And, of course, no round by round voting figures. With journalists furiously working out the Executive members they could contact to discover this essential information, FIFA in the end relented and gave us all the figures.

You could say, for England’s sake, it would have been best to have maintained the secrecy. Then we would have not known it was a first round elimination with only two votes. England 2018 could have consoled itself by pretending England must have got to the final round and was beaten by just one vote. Now no such fantasy is possible.

However, reform of FIFA has to be a long, sustained, campaign where the English FA will have to make sure it is not seen as leading a first world, Anglo-Saxon, or European, initiative. Consider the last time it was attempted.

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2002. Then, led by UEFA, the FA backed Issa Hayatou against Blatter. It seemed a campaign that UEFA had to win. UEFA were extremely unhappy about how Blatter had run the organisation. The collapse of ISL, FIFA’s marketing company, had meant all sorts of skeletons had tumbled out of their cupboard, raising very serious questions about FIFA’s finances, governance, and ethics. The Europeans were not entirely united. The German member of the Executive did not join in, nor did Michel Platini who had just got elected to the Executive. Nevertheless, many senior Executive members of FIFA were convinced Blatter had to go. This included his own general secretary, Michel Zen Ruffinen.

The Europeans thought they had the ideal mechanism. Back Hayatou, President of the Africa Football Confederation, against the Swiss. At that stage the world did not know of Barrack Obama but this could have been FIFA’s Obama moment – the first non-white to be elected to this, the most important job in football. The FA went very public in their support for Hayatou, with Adam Crozier, then FA chief executive, taking the floor of the Congress to criticise Blatter.

The result – a crushing victory for Blatter. Hayatou did not even carry his own African Confederation. Talking to various members from the 207 countries that make up FIFA, it was clear most of them did not see anything wrong in how Blatter was running the organisation. And at the end of it, as Blatter celebrated in a style that could have been borrowed from medieval kings at their coronation, the dismayed Europeans spoke of the vast cultural gap between themselves and other FIFA members. What was unacceptable in Europe was perfectly acceptable in many other countries. Any new FIFA campaign for reform will have to tackle this huge cultural divide, and the FA will have to find a non European champion who is better at it than Hayatou proved to be.

As for alleged lies FIFA Executive members told David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, it was very interesting to hear the views of a member of England’s 2018 team, who has extensive Parliamentary experience. His words to me were “This was like elections for chairman or other positions in the House of Commons. I have participated in many such elections and you take what you are told about voting intentions with a large pinch of salt. The fact is our people in Zurich accepted assurances of support very easily. It all means what they say. Do they say ‘we will vote for you’, or do they use a form of words that can be interpreted as support. You need to test that properly. I do not think we did that sufficiently and I must say I found it a three ring circus where the result was entirely predictable”.

Although this Parliamentarian did not mention it, the most famous example of being duped surely took place in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher was challenged by Michael Heseltine. Mrs Thatcher’s camp was absolutely confident she had won, only to find those who had given assurances did not always fulfil them. There can be no doubt that one of the most successful Prime Ministers of our time was duped by her own party members.

I also cannot understand this argument that as England had the best technical bid they must win. In that case why bother having a vote? Just mark the technical bids and declare a winner. An election means technical evaluation is taken into account, but that is not the only criteria. If you choose a country whose technical criteria is not as good then it must have something else, an X-factor to justify its choice. That was the X-factor that South Africa’s campaign was based on; the theme being it is time to finally go to Africa. And that was the X-factor Russia used.

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I became aware of the power of the Russian X-factor when, back in April, I interviewed Sepp Blatter.

Talking of England he said, “Listen it is the easiest bid in the world. They have the football already organised. They have everything. England has no problem in delivering a World Cup. The other bidders must convince the Executive Committee. England does not have to convince us.”

When I pressed him whether this meant England was a shoo in for 2018, he responded “We know England can stage the World Cup. But England winning, I am not so sure.” Spain and Portugal, said Blatter, have stadiums to match England. As for Russia he said, with a note of awe, “I was there recently, and what they presented is remarkable. Russia is a not a country but a continent and Russia has big plans to expand.”

Blatter would not say how he would vote, but as I wrote then, Blatter’s words carried, “more than a hint that, for all the excellence of the English bid, Russia’s plans may prove attractive to his fellow members on the 24-man Executive.”

And so it has proved.

Interestingly, Blatter was at Sport Accord in Dubai, the annual gathering of international sports administrators, being held in the Middle East for the first time. His talk to the delegates was about the changing geography of world sport and how the English had not got used to the idea that the sports they once controlled were now run by Latins. This had made them, he said, jealous of these organisations.

England has work to do to eradicate that impression and get used to the idea that the World Cup has changed yet again. For a start, it is best to realise that England did not create the World Cup. It was a French creation that England shunned for decades. So even if England had won, football would not have been coming home. Also, last week’s decisions in Zurich means that old comforting alternation between Western Europe and some other part of the world has finally been abandoned. Recall all the World Cups between 1930 and 1994 took place either in Western Europe, apart from Sweden in 1958, or a few countries in Latin America. USA broke the mould in 1994 and this decision accelerates that process.

In this bid, England found such realities difficult to accept. To accept realities does not mean approving them. But unless England is to don its armour and go on a crusade, it would be better advised to shape reality to its advantage.


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