The mob rule which ran amok at Wembley Stadium before, during and after the European Championship Final wasn’t the most damaging aspect last week to a potential joint bid between UK and Ireland partners for the 2030 World Cup Finals.
There was certainly consternation in the UK and Ireland bid team camp at the mayhem which unfolded when drunken ticketless louts, masquerading as England football fans, managed to break through lines of stewards, barriers and doors to enter the stadium and inflict violence and carnage on unsuspecting fans who had paid for the privilege of being in attendance at a major Final.
The disgusting online racial abuse which followed England’s defeat to Italy on penalties only added to a night of shame for English football and immediately there were questions over the suitability of a UK and Ireland bid as the FA are the major player in any proposal.
Ultimately though, in the great scheme of the FIFA bidding process, should the UK and Ireland partners move forward from their feasibility study to actually put their hats in the ring, which they are expected to do, those acts of wanton destruction and thuggery are likely to be a distant memory when it comes to 2024 and a decision is made on who hosts the 2030 World Cup.
News on Friday morning that oil-rich Saudi Arabia are considering entering the bidding, possibly in conjunction with Italy, would have sent shockwaves down the back of those entrusted with the UK and Ireland proposal.
Cash is king in any World Cup and therefore China and Saudi Arabia, with their billions, pose the biggest threats to the UK and Ireland team than lawlessness at Wembley Stadium. And if FIFA opted to take the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and next year in Qatar — two countries where the abuse of human rights is a major concern — shocking scenes in London are unlikely going to raise too many eyebrows.
Saudi Arabia is hardly the bastion of democracy with its Sharia Law, an absolute monarchy and a poor record on media freedoms and religious tolerances.
London, it seems, has already been given a vote of confidence, certainly by UEFA, the competition organisers last Sunday night, as they have named Wembley as the host venue for the 2024 Champions League Final.
Saudi Arabia are desperately trying to muscle in on global sporting projects and events. In recent years, they have hosted world title boxing fights, a Formula 1 Grand Prix and a tour event in golf.
They were also extremely interested in buying Newcastle United Football Club.
Having watched neighbours succeed in securing the World Cup, it will be no surprise if football-mad Saudi Arabia enter the fray. By all accounts, they have an excellent relationship with Italian football so even though there is a huge distance between the two countries, by bringing in world football power Italy, the Saudis would make their bid much more attractive.
China, though, would be considered the favourites if they decide to go early and try and claim the 2030 World Cup. The UK and Ireland team are hopeful that China will wait and go for the 2034 Finals instead.
If the UK and Ireland are to make it through to the final bid process then they’ll need to overcome the Iberian partnership of Spain and Portugal to win Europe’s ticket.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin appears to be in favour of the Iberian ticket and he is adamant he only wants to see one European proposal go forward for the final consideration by FIFA.
However, it is understood the UK and Ireland team are confident they would generate more money than Spain and Portugal, giving them an advantage in the European race.
There, of course, is the romantic bid from South America where Uruguay will be looking for the Finals to return to their country exactly 100 years after they played inaugural hosts. Uruguay have gone into partnership with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay this time around but the UK and Ireland bid team aren’t overly worried about the South Americans. As one FIFA source said: “There is no time for sentimentality in football these days.”
Northern Ireland’s FIFA Vice-President David Martin will lead the charge and bid team for the UK and Ireland while new IFA President Conrad Kirkwood will be invited to join negotiations with his fellow Presidents from the various Associations.
The UK and Ireland team point out that the bid is still at the feasibility stage, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson isn’t going to spend millions on something that isn’t going to come to fruition or hold important talks with FIFA President Gianni Infantino unless he is deadly serious of backing the bid financially.
While Northern Ireland will be key players in the bid process, due to stadia size, the IFA will be unable to host any games. However, having countries over for training camps and as their base during the tournament would be a major positive for the country.
The UK and Ireland bid is alive and well despite the Wembley hooligans attempting to kill it last Sunday night.