Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Professor Alan Tomlinson

  Thank you for your letter of 1 November 2000, inviting me to submit written evidence as part of the Department's new inquiry into the staging of international sporting events. I am pleased to have the opportunity to make some points based upon my long-term study of the politics of world football, and the history, culture and politics of the Olympic Games. I will comment in two categories, on the decision concerning the hosting of the 2006 World (Football/Soccer) Cup, and on the possibility of a London Olympic bid.


  Although the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 1998-1999 reported the England 2006 bid to have been "well conceived, well managed and well executed", with support from the Government described as "exemplary", the English bid was always doomed. This was because for some years England has been isolated in the corridors of power of European and world football, and the pitch and tone of the bid merely created resentment at what was widely perceived across the world as a simultaneously haughty and naive approach by the England 2006 team. Next to the bids and campaigns from South Africa and Germany, the England bid was always an outsider. With my co-author, John Sugden, I predicted that this would be the case, in a piece on "FIFA's World Cup Wars" in New Statesman, May 1 1998, and in our two books on world football politics—FIFA and the Contest for World Football—Who Rules the Peoples' Game (Polity Press, 1998, see Chapter 5 in particular), and Great Balls of Fire—How Big Money is Hijacking World Football (Mainstream Publishing, 1999, see Chapter 13 in particular). Short accounts of the process are also available by John Sugden in the December 2000 issue of Stadia, and Alan Tomlinson in the August 2000 issue of When Saturday Comes.

  It is important in understanding the outcome of this bid to recognise that the fan troubles at the Euro 2000 tournament, and UEFA's veiled threat to expel the England side, were irrelevant to the campaign. This provided, for some, a convenient explanation for the failure of the bid. But the bid was never going to secure many of the 24 available votes of the members of FIFA's executive committee. Although purportedly an individual and secret ballot, the vote often works in terms of factions and sub-factions, based upon the interests of confederations, and alliances across confederations. The England bid was never taken seriously in terms of these geo-politics of world football. It was even less favourably viewed in European circles in particular when England reneged upon a collective European commitment to support UEFA president Lennart Johansson in the contest for the FIFA presidency in 1998, and also tried to oust respected FIFA executive member David Will, and replace him with the then FA Chairman Keith Wiseman. Wiseman had polled a humiliatingly low number of votes in his attempt to get on the UEFA executive earlier in 1998, and the crude and clumsy attempt to replace David Will astounded many among FIFA's experienced football elite. All this followed on from the FA's denial of any agreement that in exchange for support in bringing England back into European football (in club competitions and then in staging Euro '96), England would not oppose a mainland European bid to host the 2006 World Cup. European and (part) Asian alliances would always mean that England would never gather enough votes to be a serious contender.

  Tabloid explanations of the outcome of the bid in Germany's favour targeted the President of the Oceania Football Federation, Charles Dempsey, whose vote for England was never changed and switched to another bidder. The world press vilified Dempsey for this. If he had switched the vote to South Africa, the votes would have tied, and the FIFA President Sepp Blatter, it was widely believed, would have used his own casting vote in favour of South Africa. In fact, more important than the personal strategy of Dempsey, was the switch of votes to Germany by two delegates from the Asian confederation. Researchers in Germany have noted that such support was secured at the last minute, in the context of governmental commitment to controversial trade deals with the countries represented by those two delegates. It is this level of international football realpolitik that determines the outcome of bidding processes for events such as the football World Cup, and it is a valid question to pose whether this is at all compatible with any aspirations to operate ethically in international relations and foreign policy, particularly as the England 2006 bid was perhaps the most explicitly political initiative of its kind to date.


  I base these comments upon my historical study of the culture and politics of the Olympics since the formation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894 (and the first Games in Athens in 1896), and upon my time in Australia from July-September this year, culminating in attendance at a dozen events in and around Sydney during the fortnight of the Summer Olympic Games.

  The Sydney Games has been received rapturously by media, sports organisers, politicians and the public. In many ways Great Britain's athletes demonstrated the effectiveness of Lottery funding, and in several cases (boxing, modern pentathlon for instance) represented an interesting kind of resurgence of the amateur. Outstanding athletes could take time off from professional careers, to prepare for the Olympics. The gains in the medal ranking were, in comparison to Great Britain's one gold and placing one place behind Ethiopia, dramatic. Australia also reminded the world that the host nation can achieve its best ever results when the event is on home territory, as South Korea showed in 1988, Spain in 1992. Australia almost achieved its medal target of 60, in confirming its place among the top sporting nations worldwide. And Australia celebrated what was recurrently claimed as "the biggest peacetime event in the world" in a series of welcomes to its global audience and its hundreds of thousands of visitors. In these three ways, then staging the Olympic spectacle can be seen as beneficial. It profiles modernity, showcases excellence, and boosts the tourism/visitor economy. But on closer scrutiny, the benefits of the events look less certain. It is of course too soon to say this about the Sydney Games, but the charter flights hardly keep Seoul and Calgary (Winter Games, 1988) full of sports-mad tourists or other visitors. Barcelona showcased itself in 1992, but would be a world tourist city anyway. And Atlanta suffered, if anything, in self-esteem with its less than impressive staging of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

  Before a London bid for the Olympics is considered, the reality behind the three main sorts of claim made for the benefits of staging the Games should be reviewed. London is very much a world city on every kind of visitor agenda, without a new Wembley or a Millennium Dome. If Pickett's Lock is seen as London's Homebush Bay (the site for Sydney's Olympic Park), it hardly ranks with the scale and range of the project of reclamation underlying the Sydney success. For Australia, the Sydney Games involved commitment at national, state and city level, from the point in 1993 when the event was awarded to the city. Yet just a couple of months before the event, the New South Wales treasurer was baling out the organisers with subsidies running in to hundreds of millions of Australian dollars. The accounting systems of the organising committee (SOCOG-Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) were adapted in the run-in to make the most of value-in-kind support rather than direct income. The accounting systems of events such as the Olympic Games have always been made to be adaptable and flexible, as projections made seven or so years before the event itself are inevitably superseded by developments in national and global economies. On acceptance of the privilege of hosting the events, cities and national governments sign up to the International Olympic Committee, committing whatever will be necessary to achieve the projections made in the successful bid. During the Olympics, state police in Sydney guarded the entrances to the city's top hotels. London must ask itself whether meeting such expectations from a body such as the IOC would be justified by the less-than-certain benefits of staging the event. There is no doubt that many voting members of the IOC would favour a London-based Games, and the votes are less based in blocs than in the case of FIFA, as revelations concerning the buying of votes have revealed, particularly in the case of Salt Lake City. But the effort garnered to make an Olympics happen could well be better spent on more certain outcomes for the infrastructure and health of the capital city. Olympic aspirations for Great Britain may well be best met by a revitalised funding of the grass roots of sport, alongside a continued funding of potential Olympians at key stages of their preparation.

December 2000

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