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World Cup 2030 bid must be more than a tin-eared PR exercise to ‘bring football home’

Dan Kilpatrick
·2-min read
<p>Boris Johnson: “Let’s bring football home in 2030.”</p> (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson: “Let’s bring football home in 2030.”

(Getty Images)

There are reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of the UK and Ireland launching a joint-bid for the 2030 World Cup, confirmed by Boris Johnson on Tuesday.

A reformed Fifa and revamped voting system offers hope that the rank corruption which contributed to the humiliation of the failed 2018 bid is a problem of the past, while there are also economic, political and structural factors in favour.

However, Mr Johnson's support for the proposal should set alarm bells ringing, even at this fledgling stage.

After announcing his backing in an interview with The Sun newspaper, the Prime Minister tweeted: "Let's bring football home in 2030."

As slogans go, it is a troubling choice. The 2018 bid team banned the phrase "football's coming home" from any promotion material or conversations in the build-up to their doomed pitch a decade ago, fearing it would come across as arrogant and presumptuous, not to mention misleading.

Boris Johnson and Sepp Blatter in 2010 ahead of England’s doomed World Cup bidGetty Images
Boris Johnson and Sepp Blatter in 2010 ahead of England’s doomed World Cup bidGetty Images

To underline the point, at the tournament itself, England's association with the phrase irritated their rivals in Russia, and Croatian players even used it to goad after their semi-final win over Gareth Southgate's side.

And the slogan feels particularly uncomfortable given Johnson's Government's record of pursuing nativist, inward-looking policies.

Spearing a bid with nationalist rhetoric, which chimes with Brexit, would send a poor message to the rest of the world about the UK and Ireland's motives for staging a truly global tournament.

Binning any mention of bringing football "home" would be one to lesson to take from the 2018 bid, which received just two votes from Fifa's corrupt ExCo committee in 2010.

Mr Johnson wants to “bring football home in 2030”PA
Mr Johnson wants to “bring football home in 2030”PA

Another would be carefully to gauge the mood inside Fifa and confederations before launching into a multi-million pound exercise that may have little hope of succeeding.

Admittedly, this forms part of five nations' feasibility study which is ongoing, but there have already been suggestions that China could be the preferred 2030 hosts, while there is inevitable romanticism to the idea of a joint South American bid involving Uruguay to mark the centenary of the first ever World Cup there, and a joint bid by Portugal and Spain would present stiff opposition in a European popularity contest.

In the short-term, Tuesday's news felt like another in a long-list of football-related Government announcements designed to distract the nation from the gloom of the coronavirus pandemic and lift spirits.

Ultimately, if the UK is serious about succeeding where they failed in 2018, Johnson needs to do more to ensure this is more than simply a tin-eared PR exercise.

Read More

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