Friday, 3 December 2010

Coe's colossal miscalculation

The fallout from England's failed bid to host the World Cup has been everywhere to see following yesterday's Fifa vote.

With bitter grapes over 'corrupt' members of the executive committee exposed by Britain's free press, anger at the 'reward' given to the racism shown by football fans in the Russian 'mafia-state', confusion over the misleading feedback provided in the technical report fingers are being pointed in all directions. Everyone is asking how it could possibly be that the FA weren't the most deserving.

In this nobody comes out well. Not any of the politicians who hitched their status to the prestige bandwagon, unrealistic levels of expectancy fed to and lapped up by a baying public and commercial interests willing a multi-billion pound economic boon during times of uncertainty.

In all the haste to divvy out blame real understanding why the English bid failed is entirely lacking.

Enthusiasm to mount a successful bid grew in the wake of the victory to host the 2012 Olympics.

When London surprised commentators in Singapore to overturn the long-time favorite Paris there was a feeling of momentum that Britain had the wherewithal to upset any odds and finally bring football home.

Credit was duly given to bid leader Sebastian Coe for putting together a deliverable package which held sufficient appeal to the 200+ IOC voters, but appointing him to a similar position reflected a complete failure to recognise Fifa's 24-man committee is an entirely different beast.

Where the Olympic Games are a sporting event treated as an almost cult-like spectacle, football is the game of the people. Where the IOC are the guardians of absolutist performance between the best of the best, Fifa oversees the relative interdependent competition imbued in matchplay. Where races and demonstrations between top individuals comprise athletics, gymnastics, swimming, cycling and the rest, football is mass participation with a primarily team-based ethic.

The Olympics is the showcase and for every Corinthian fringe activity, but football is the singular zenith of mass-participation regular routine: Olympic success inspires transient shock and awe, World Cup success inspires universal and eternal passion and despair.

The two greatest sporting events in the world calendar are positioned at the opposite ends of the modern political spectrum.

It may seem perverse that we shouldn't treat these two impostors just the same, but with hindsight fresh in our mirrors it should be obvious that the philosophy which goes into a successful bidding process for an Olympic Games and the World Cup must not replicate each other.

These opposing psychologies are reflected in the interests represented by the members of each voting committee. So while London won by presenting itself as the secure option and Paris lost with an emotional appeal it was almost a guarantee that England (and the Iberian or US bids for that matter) would lose out by characterising themselves as the less risky (read more profitable) option in the face of the opportunity proffered by a more vibrant alternative however far out of leftfield it came.

Tony Blair's inherent consensualism was credited as decisive when it came to making vital last-minute converts in Singapore, but the interminable schmoozing and inevitable backbiting during the run-up to the decision made yesterday in Zurich only reinforced the likelihood of a choice more controversial to establishment figureheads associated with it (such as Lord Triesman, Prince William and David Cameron).

And for me it was this fundamental political miscalculation at the heart of the England World Cup bid that almost certainly doomed the outcome from the very start.

If the finger of blame must be pointed then it can only be directed at the principle names associated with both. And there is only one. Sebastian Coe.

In his active athletic career Seb Coe rose to prominence as an Olympic great from outside the establishment circles. He rejected standard training methods and ruffled many feathers by refusing to attend meetings when it didn't fit with his schedule in order that he could peak at the right moment.

During the early 80s the prodigious Coe set a pattern which is now copied by most elite performers and risked non-selection for it. In the latter part of the decade he became more of a money athlete, knowing that he had been surpassed as others adopted a more radical regime and he could trade on his gold-medal-winning reputation to maximise his earning potential.

And his career as an administrator has followed a similar trajectory - the radical outsider broke into the establishment becoming favoured with official responsibility in recognition for his successes and knighted in the process, but declining in his overall performance and less able to deliver excellence as it has been demanded with ever-more consistency after the powers-that-be turned to him on the basis of his track record.

He can be forgiven - even applauded - the first time round, as he was doing it for its own rewards. But after he had accepted the duty to serve others and represent the interests of his country to then fail to understand his requirement to learn how the circumstances are different would lead to certain failure of the shared enterprise.

So if people are looking for reasons and to scapegoat individuals then in Lord Sebastian Coe a better candidate couldn't be found. His is a cautionary political fable.


Tim Trent said...

One way of looking at this is that we really ought not to care.

Though this may be ironic, since I am commenting, I do not care.

Oranjepan said...

Hi Tim, it's your perogative not care about football and that's fine.

However I think this is interesting on several levels.

Firstly, as Pele said, football is a metaphor for life. Or as Shakespeare might've said all the world isn't a level playing field.

Secondly its not just football, it's politics, society and economics.

And thirdly it's about human thought processes and how decisions are made. Which makes it indirectly about peace and war.

If we understand why anyone would be unhappy at an outcome then we can start to resolve the issues which may potentially cause the unhappiness.

I personally think that if it were a choice between hosting the event or hosting it in the next cycle when it will be bigger, better and we will be better prepared to put on a good show on and off the field, then I'd prefer it if we didn't set ourselves up for humiliation.

And until then the media reflection of reactions paints an embarassing of lack of grace and inhumility.

On that basis we clearly didn't deserve it and whoever inflated expectations beyond realistic levels was in it for personal gain.

When that bubble burst it was obviously going to have a fallout. They are irresponsible, but is it likely that they will accept this?

Tim Trent said...

I care enough to suggest the Eurovision Song Contest concept. Winner gets to host it next.

I care about football, though not passionately. My life will not be over if Plymouth Argyle beat Manchester United, for example, nor if it happened the other way round. I care far more for a well fought match than who plays and where.

As for the enormous business this has become, how many England players are English?

The sport is fine, but the game surrounding it stinks.