Boris Johnson was there. He was one of the English contingent lobbying to host the 2010 World Cup. In the Daily Telegraph, this is his story. “Looking back, I can remember clearly when I first had an inkling of the disaster. It was the night before the fatal vote in 2010, and we in the England delegation were summoned to that swanky Zurich hotel where the Fifa hierarchs like to do their deals.
It must have been about 10pm. Somewhere upstairs the Prime Minister was schmoozing a series of mendacious figures from the world of international football. Prince William was on another doomed mission somewhere else. I found myself in a dimly lit bar, drinking beer with Gary Lineker and Fabio Capello, while keeping an eye on the door.
Our instructions were simple. If any Fifa executive walked in, we were to make ourselves as pleasant as we decently could. We were to inveigle ourselves into their society, to tell self-deprecating jokes, to put them at their ease in the approved British manner – in short, to use whatever feeble charms we possessed to persuade them to vote for us.
I managed to join a group from – I think – Latin America. They were full of fun and life. They loved London, they adored England, they recognised our role in the creation of football. But would they vote for us? I looked into their merry faces; I scanned their eyes for a clue; and I was none the wiser.
My tension grew. We all knew that the case for England 2018 was superb; we knew that by every measure of logic and fairness we should be serious contenders to host the World Cup. But what was actually going to happen? At length I sought out the nice young British executive who had been put in charge of the PR for our bid – and I asked him straight out; and I will never forget the look I saw in his eyes – a look of sudden and terrifying candour.
I had talked to him for months, on and off, and had never known him to deviate from a tone of buoyant optimism. We had sketched out all sorts of scenarios for success, and they each depended on progressing to the second round. If X country or Y country were eliminated, we would tell ourselves, then all their first round votes would transfer to us.
By the second round we would be in an immensely strong position. Fortified with the votes of X or Y, we would scorch into the third round – and, bingo! Everyone would vote for England as the safe bet, and it would be Three Lions on a Shirt, Jules Rimet gleaming again in Wembley, and a general feeling of orgiastic national good humour.
England would host the greatest tournament of the world’s most popular game for the first time since 1966 – and all we had to do was get through that first round of voting. But could we? “I don’t know,” said our campaign manager in a whisper. “I have moments when I just can’t see where our votes are coming from.”
As we were to see the following day, he was right to be nervous. It was a rout, a fiasco, a moment of national humiliation and derision. England was blown a collective raspberry in a global version of the Eurovision song contest. Nobody’s votes transferred to us, because we beat nobody. We managed to be kicked out first with nul points and only two votes, one of which came from the English chap on Fifa.
And ever since I have asked myself why we bombed so badly. We seemed to have such a good case. England had given the game to the world, and yet we hadn’t hosted the Cup for two generations. We had by far the most developed markets for TV and advertising. We had a football-loving public. Above all we had the infrastructure to put on a world-class sporting event, as we showed beyond doubt in 2012.
And it isn’t as if we failed to woo the Fifa executives. When their delegation was in town, we made sure their traffic lights were always on green, like a series of invisible butlers holding open the doors of a palace. I even joined the 32-stone Chuck Blazer for breakfast – or for one of his series of breakfasts. Blatter, I am afraid, was treated with a reverence that was positively emetic. And none of it was enough.
Now, thanks in large part to the indefatigable work of the British press, we now appear to know the reason. The whole Fifa edifice was and is weevilled with apparent corruption. While other countries turned a blind eye, the Americans have stepped in. The US has an extraordinary doctrine – that if you commit a crime by using an American banking network then you have committed a crime under American law and must answer to America; and if it brings the kleptocrats of Fifa to justice, then I am all for it.
I hope that the law now takes its course: that Sepp Blatter is finally forced to take responsibility for what appears to have happened on his watch, and to resign. If they had any sense of honour the sponsors would now pull the plug on this plainly fraudulent organisation.
In an ideal world the guilty would be convicted and Fifa would be wound up and replaced – as I have long since argued – by a more transparent and accountable body. I have to say, alas, that I am not entirely certain that things will turn out this way. As both the US and Swiss investigators acknowledge, bribery is difficult to prove.
And then there is a further geopolitical problem. You and I may rejoice at the notion of Britain and America triumphing in the final reel of the movie – James Bond and Felix Leiter coming together to winkle Blofeld from his lair. Not everyone sees it that way; not everyone likes the idea of an Anglo-American imperium. You may have noted that the French and Spanish Fifa wallahs decided, amazingly, to vote for Blatter.
All we can do is watch events, send whatever evidence we have to the Americans, and live in hope. And if the Swiss police indeed show that the 2010 contest was corrupted, then it will have to be re-run. London stands ready.”