This has been a year when it has been difficult to get away from the World Cup. Africa holding its first World Cup, unmemorable on the field, but fascinating off it. And the epic struggle to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The bidding process was fascinating/intriguing/disgraceful/you-couldn’t-make-it-up (take your pick). Here is my pick of the stories I did as the events unfolded and reached their climax in the icy centre of Zurich.
Back in May, interviewed Sepp Blatter: he was already singing Russia’s praises, and there was talk even then of deals being made over Qatar. Spoke in the Sunday Telegraph about the complexities of the voting, warning that, ‘Given how small the electorate is, even a perfect campaign may not deliver the perfect result.’ Also spoke of England’s need (and lack) of a key figure on their bid team to play the same role that Beckenbauer did for Germany when the 2006 host was being decided. Beckham just wouldn’t be able to fill that role.
In June, spoke about how England was lacking the X-factor, while Russia was able to leave a legacy that Sepp Blatter wanted so much. Interview with a key member of the US team also convinced me that once Fifa had worked out how the votes would be cast, USA would withdraw from 2018 and concentrate on 2022, while England and other Europeans would concentrate on 2018.
In August, warned of English over-confidence after the FIFA inspections, pointing out that England still had to put together a winning team to bring the World Cup home.
In October, spoke of how the problems posed by the Sunday Times investigations, and the impending Panorama programme, meant that a shift in the likely voting would mean that England’s chance of winning was by no means secure. Lord Coe’s advice was sought on the matter.
In November, after the airing of the Panorama programme, reported on the possible effects on voting. Also highlighted England’s lack of influence within FIFA brought about by years of neglect. Looked at the problems England faced, the need to get to six votes in the first round if they were to survive the ffirst round. This was compounded by lack of a natural fit with any of the 2022 biders, making the task of winning friends and influencing voters difficult.
The day before the vote in December, reported on the England team’s optimism, the need to get Jack Warner on-side, and the speculation around Zurich of how the voting would go. This included fears either England or Russia could lose in the first round, more so given a better than expected Belgium Netherlands bid. I predicted England losing to Spain-Portugal, but while England lost, it was Russia, as Blatter had hinted back in May, who romped home. However, England’s anger should not make them lose their heads over FIFA.