Another Boris own goal

Another Boris own goal

Murad Qureshi says the London Mayor may pay the penalty over his involvement in England’s humiliating World Cup bid

by Murad Qureshi
Friday, January 7th, 2011
Before his trip to Zurich in support of the ill-fated bid by England for the 2018 World Cup, l asked London Mayor Boris Johnson what he had offered Fifa president Sepp Blatter to persuade him of England’s case to host the 2018 tournament. His answer was: “There has been no offer made to the Fifa president directly.”

Yet newspapers went on to describe his decision to ban Blatter and his colleagues from the Dorchester Hotel during the 2012 London Olympics. The Mail on Sunday reported that the FIFA president and his team had been invited to stay at Dorchester, but that the Mayor had now “withdrawn the offer to demonstrate his fury at the way Fifa threw out England’s bid”. So either Boris Johnson gave an entirely misleading answer or those people briefing on his behalf (perhaps nonplussed that he had been squeezed out of all the nationalistic media attention by the heir to the throne and the Prime Minister) spun this story beyond the limits of what was actually occurring.

I also asked the Mayor what liabilities he accepted on London’s behalf for the World Cup bid. He answered: “We cannot provide the required response.” This when all the other cities involved had reports available on their websites clearly outlining the liabilities that each had to take on in order to support their respective nation’s World Cup bid.

Any reading of the host city agreement would show many potentially onerous conditions. The ones that stand out include Fifa being exempt from any local taxes and the open-ended commitment that host cities have to underwrite all costs to fulfil its obligations as defined by Fifa – which can be subject to change. What if Fifa had insisted that 24-hour drinking licenses be granted or that Heathrow Airport stay open all night? Or that while ticket holders get free public transport on match days, the cost should fall on London Transport fare payers?

Don’t get me wrong – l was very keen to see the World Cup brought to London. However, the Mayor should have been more open about these potentially onerous conditions and the financial costs that local and regional government would have to bear – especially when we are facing several years of severe cuts.
Clearly, the Mayor’s feathers were ruffled because he did not have a leading role in Zurich. But that was hardly surprising, as David Beckham, Prince William and David Cameron were fronting the England bid. Boris could only have been in Switzerland to sign up for the host cities agreement with Fifa in the event of England winning. Yet other interested cities did not send anyone to Zurich to conduct that particular business. This was a national bid and not a city one, as was the case with the Olympics, so civic leaders had far less prominence.

So just what was Boris Johnson doing in Zurich? During his absence, there was transport chaos in London with much of the capital frozen to a halt and commuters facing nightmare journeys. He may well have been trying to emulate Ken Livingstone’s contribution to the successful London 2012 Olympic bid. But this ultimately pointless trip while London transport froze will do nothing for his re-election chances next year.

Murad Qureshi is a Labour Member of the London Assembly

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