Last week, waves of shock and dismay coursed through the national mood as England’s hyped-up bid for the 2018 football World Cup fell flat in spectacular fashion.

After being eliminated in the first round with just two of 22 possible votes, and watching Russia walk away with the hosting rights for 2018, bid leaders were astounded. Reports surfaced about a series of broken promises from FIFA executive committee delegates, who had not delivered their pledges to back England’s technically excellent proposal.

The chain of events leading to that fate was long and complex. Two FIFA executives had been suspended in November following a Sunday Times bribery investigation. Then, just days before the vote, the BBC aired a Panorama report by Andrew Jennings which shed light on further evidence of corruption among senior FIFA figures.

For me, the most scandalous aspect of Jennings’ programme was not the charge that three executive committee members were illicitly lining their pockets through bribes and ticket touting. He also reported on a package of confidential conditions imposed by FIFA on World Cup host nations, which was leaked by the Dutch government earlier this year.

These requirements include the temporary suspension of workers’ rights, a loosening of national visa laws and complete tax exemption for FIFA itself. Jennings suggested this prospect had been nervously received in British political circles, with the government reportedly trying to manoeuvre around some of the trickiest clauses in the mandatory hosting agreement.

Critics argued that these investigations by the UK media had irrevocably poisoned England’s chances of success for 2018, even before the final presentations in Switzerland. Nevertheless, David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William steamed into Zurich as part of a Football Association lobby determined to divert attention from the rotten reporters onto more positive elements of the country’s plan.

A truly cringe-worthy sense of entitlement emerged as cautiously optimistic rumours drifted in. Word on the street was that Beckham et al were succeeding in their sleazy courtship. A palpable arrogance was projected by images of the so-called “three lions” chatting merrily as they posed in a Swiss hotel – seemingly oblivious to the fact they were dealing with an organisation that has been revealed as condoning corrupt and improper practice at its highest levels.

Surely, it must then come as no surprise that several FIFA executives double-crossed the FA by voting elsewhere when push came to shove. A Japanese official said the Times and BBC reports had an impact on voting intentions. Publicly, the English delegation refused to blame the meddling media, but others in the country have been less restrained in naming and shaming.

The hypocrisy is clear: how can people on one side complain at UK journalists exposing corruption – and on the other, moan about the fact that the very same corrupt officials proved this exact point by reneging on verbal agreements to vote for England’s bid?

Incidentally, we can rest safe in the knowledge that Russia and Qatar – which is hosting the 2022 World Cup in another controversial choice – will be far more pliable partners when it comes to FIFA’s demand for special tax status. Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter are a match made in heaven. We will never know whether it was naivety or ignorance on the part of Cameron and co to imagine they would get off scot-free after their country upset football’s bigwigs in such stark terms. The manner in which they grovelled at the feet of immoral conmen-in-denial to try and win votes is more a national embarrassment than the humiliating last place.

The presumptuous nature of our 2018 bid – which mirrors the national side’s well-documented complacency on the field – has given the beautiful game much food for thought. The laudable concept of “fair play” espoused so often by football’s global governing body has been distorted beyond recognition. What England must do now is swallow its considerable pride and fully expose FIFA as the crooked outfit we all know it is.

From some angles, the FA would look like bad losers lashing out in revenge, but the moral high ground is there to be taken – as acting chairman Roger Burden has already shown by handing in his resignation. For all of England’s world-class football facilities, which may well deserve to stage prestigious tournaments, the investigative tradition of a free, independent and strong media is something to be equally proud of.

Published @ The Comment Factory, 14/12/10 – click here for original.