With the sporting focus now swinging back towards football it is interesting to note that the 09/10 season will be of the utmost importance on the international stage. Not only are England just a step away from qualification for the 2010 World Cup, currently due to take place in South Africa, but the year ahead will also be a decisive time for our own bid to host the tournament in 2018.
Along with the likes of Australia, USA, Mexico and Russia our bid was submitted to FIFA in January and, whilst we clearly face stiff competition, on paper we surely tick all the necessary boxes as a suitable host country. Or do we? As always expectations are high and amongst the recent successful bids to bring the 2012 Olympics and 2015 Rugby World Cup to the UK it is easy to forget that we have been in this position before.
It was nine years ago that the English Football Association (FA) last made a bid to host the competition. In a similar fashion to today, we were well-placed, well prepared and tagged as the favourites. Unfortunately, however, we were comprehensively beaten and eventually the tournament was awarded to our European rivals Germany. Indeed, the overriding fear is that we English are our own worst enemies with the 2006 failure largely considered to be the result of excessive English confidence. A perceived attitude of superiority and an unwillingness to ‘market’ ourselves overseas provoked little international support and ultimately undermined our chances of hosting the tournament. Thankfully, lessons have been learnt and this time around an entourage of FA officials have been touring the globe to try and drum up support from the international football community whilst a concerted international PR campaign is set to be launched globally in 2010.
I hope that the FA uses such opportunities to strongly and confidently highlight the unique contribution that England makes to the game globally as well as acknowledging how well-prepared we are to host any such tournament. Looking at the bid there are three main aspects that stand out for me and I am convinced that if these are sufficiently highlighted we will have a good chance of bringing the tournament back to English soil.
Firstly, our history as the birthplace of football and our heritage as a serious player on the international stage make an English bid worthy of consideration from the outset. Of course we have no overriding right to host the competition, but if incorporated into a bidding presentation correctly our heritage and global contribution to the development of the sport, particularly in the third world, is a unique selling point and an attractive marketing proposition. Ultimately, our history in the sport provides us with an identity in an increasingly competitive football world and should form a solid foundation for our bid.
Secondly, building on our tradition we already have an almost unrivalled array of football infrastructure in all parts of the country. In stark contrast to South Africa, whose facilities remain incomplete with less than a year to go, we could realistically host the tournament at relatively short notice and without the need for any major alternations to our stadia or training facilities. At this stage it is also important to advocate our willingness to provide backup to South Africa as an emergency host nation should any of the well-publicised construction difficulties and security concerns in that country fail to be resolved in a timely manner. Our ability to step in even at this late stage not only highlights our abundance of facilities but also our desire for the World Cup to be held in a safe and proper manner.
Furthermore, unlike the controversial Olympic Games there would be no need for massive spending plans. In fact there are already too many cities and football clubs who want a piece of the World Cup action, so much so that sixty-four venues have already submitted an application. Indeed, stadia in cities such as Bristol, Derby and Milton Keynes are preparing to give our more traditional football territories like London, Manchester and Liverpool a good run for their money as they all launch bids to host World Cup games.
Lastly, the third element which I believe makes an England bid special is the country’s passion for football. This passion seeps into every aspect of our society and is highlighted constantly under the glare of the media spotlight and increasingly on both newspaper front and back pages in this the age of the celebrity footballer. Furthermore, latest figures from the FA show that over seven million people play the sport each week, coached by 30,000 qualified coaches on over 45,000 pitches. Yet, these impressive playing figures pale into insignificance when contrasted against TV viewing figures and even attendances at live games reached new heights last season with 14 million people experiencing a Premiership match and over 16 million people attending a football league game. Indeed, England’s second tier of football, the Coca-Cola Championship, is now more popular globally than Italy’s Seria A. Overall, it is fair to suggest that the FIFA World Cup is a sporting tournament that would capture the imagination and support of the country and with an estimated injection of £800 million into the British economy it is difficult to find fault with any part of our bid.
Following the Olympic Games and the Rugby World Cup a successful football bid would truly cap off a wonderful sporting decade for the whole of the United Kingdom. Given our history, our infrastructure and our passion for the sport English football fans have good reason to be optimistic about our chances of hosting the ultimate football competition here on home soil. Our sole experience of doing so in 1966 is a fast fading memory – it is now time for world football to come back to its roots again.