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Football World Cup

Volume 488: debated on Monday 2 March 2009

Last month, I joined Lord Triesman in Zurich for the formal presentation to FIFA of the Football Association’s bid to host the 2018 World cup finals. Following the presentation, Lord Triesman and I had constructive discussions with FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, on the bid and a range of football governance issues.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I genuinely wish the FA every success in its bid for the World cup, because it could be the only route to qualification that the team get, and it makes it easy for us Scots to come down and compete. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will encourage the games authorities to do more to establish a lifetime legacy for a World cup bid to ensure that grass-roots football is delivered to people, particularly those in poorer countries such as Africa and, indeed, throughout the rest of the world?

What provocation! I am barely out of the traps at DCMS questions and my hon. Friend goads me in that way. I hope that we will both see the 2018 World cup in England. I very much agree with him that we should learn from the failed bid of 2006 about how to go about bidding. At that time there was a sense of “Football’s coming home. It is our turn; give it to us”, but this time we must bid differently and more cleverly and recognise that English football has a reach in Africa and Asia that other national leagues do not. Because of that, there is so much that English football can take to the world to the benefit of football. That should be the spirit of the bid; I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support in that endeavour.

I warmly support the bid. Does the Secretary of State agree that in this very deep world recession the strongest case that we have to put at the next meeting with FIFA representatives is that we already have the infrastructure and ability to take on the games? In the present financial circumstances, FIFA would be ill advised to take a chance on a country that does not have the facilities already available.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a solid point, and I very much agree with him. FIFA is taking the World cup to South Africa and then to south America; I think it would be in everyone’s interest to have a World cup in 2018 that can do so much to reach out around the world. He is right that, because of our football grounds infrastructure, unlike others we can spend time working with other countries through our status as host nation. That is one of the compelling aspects of our bid. It feels to me that this is the right time for the country to get the FIFA World cup—not because we deserve it or because it is our turn, but because we can do so much more to enhance football around the world.

What representations has my right hon. Friend received from FIFA about its wish to remove the World cup finals from the A list of protected events that must be shown live on free-to-air TV? Will he continue to resist any link between that desire on behalf of FIFA and our bid for 2018?

My hon. Friend will know that we recently appointed David Davies, the former Football Association executive, to consider the protected list. It is 10 years since we last reviewed it, and the time is right to look again at what shape the list should have in a world when we will all be watching digital multi-channel TV. That review is ongoing and I am sure that all interested parties will feed into it. My hon. Friend should also know that the issues are being tested at the European level. The UK has offered support to Belgium, which is currently facing a test on its own list. We strongly believe in the importance of a protected list to ensure that all people can watch for free events that are of national significance, which can help them to be inspired by sport. That will remain our case.

I am sure that the Secretary of State saw the remarks of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, over the weekend. He supported the view of the Scottish Football Association, the tartan army, and the overwhelming majority of Scotland fans that a “team GB” would threaten the independence of the Scottish football team. Given that it has all been about FIFA assurances, will the Secretary of State now drop those plans and instead support our proposal to have all the home nations participating in the 2012 Olympics, just as they did in London in 1908?

I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Late last year, the FIFA executive passed a resolution specifically saying that the independent status of the four Football Associations would not be affected by the fielding of a British team at the London 2012 Olympics. Might I say that FIFA takes issue with some of the reporting published at the weekend and has today resolutely confirmed its position, which it minuted in December. I understand that, individually, the home Football Associations may not want to be part of the machinery that creates a team in 2012, and I understand that it is their right to take that decision, but I say to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the British Olympic Association wants to put forward a British football team, and it should be the strongest team that we could possibly field. No sanctions should be applied against any young person who wants to accept the call-up to that team and represent their country in their home-soil Olympics. To deny young people that opportunity would, I think, be a crying shame.

This is a new question. Given the good will towards the bid from both sides of the House, does the Secretary of State think it appropriate that nearly half the members of the bid board are from the Labour party? I know that he will be keen to maintain cross-party support, so will he make urgent representations to resolve the issue so that a potentially great sporting success is not compromised by party politics?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I hope that he is not trying to make a party political issue out of the bid, because the strength of our Olympic bid was its cross-party nature. Might I point it out to him that there are figures linked to the bid who represent both political parties? The recent announcement that Lord Coe accepted an invitation to join the board is welcome. Party politics really should not play a part; this should be a bid that represents all opinion, all football supporters and, indeed, all people who love sport in this country. I am confident that the balance on the board properly reflects the interest in sport throughout the country.