04/01/2011

FiFA’s decision not to award England with hosting the 2018 World Cups is less a snub for the Prime Minister and David Beckham and more to do with the changing world in which we operate. Allan Biggar, Chairman of All About Brands, argues that Russia’s bonanza decade of hosting both the Winter Olympics and the World Cup can be an opportunity for UK plc.

Despite the collective talents and lobbying of the heir to the throne, the Prime Minister and the charismatic David Beckham, England’s colossal efforts and investment in trying to win the right to host the 2018 World Cup were in vain.

Much has been written about over the last couple of weeks as sore losers such as England, Spain and Portugal have complained that FiFA is fundamentally a corrupt body and that the goal posts kept shifting as it became apparent technical bids didn’t count for much; it was the wider realpolitik considerations at the heart of the decision.
Yes, FiFA needs to reform urgently and commit to greater transparency and accountability to legitimately claim to be the guardians of world football.

And to my mind, it was unedifying to see such an eminent English line-up pandering to a group of unelected and unaccountable suits.

But equally, developed countries have to get used to sharing wider the international spoils, including hosting cherished events such as the World Cup and the Olympics.
Change is in the air, and FiFA’s justification to take international football to new markets is not an unreasonable one.

British and Spanish football has international exposure and it’s difficult to see what further lasting legacy for the benefit of the sport could be left behind than already exists currently in those countries.

For Russia and Qatar, it is quite a different ball game.The tournament promises investment in infrastructure, facilities and sport which simply aren’t there currently.

That’s a compelling argument and difficult for FiFA or anyone else to dispute. We shouldn’t begrudge Russian football fans to host the World Cup for the first time ever, nor should we try to argue that the Arab world is somehow any less fit to host the tournament than other climatically challenged countries such as Mexico.

Perhaps, most significantly, it’s not just standing that has been lost by England’s failed World Cup bid.

Russia is now set to gain a helpful boost to its economy from inward investment as a consequence of hosting the tournament. Both Canada and South Africa are estimated to have reaped several billion dollars in inward investment from hosting this year’s Winter Olympics and the World Cup respectively.

With its hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and now the World Cup in 2018, Russia is set to benefit from unprecedented flows of inward investment in the coming decade, much to the chagrin of the rest of cash-starved Europe especially England, Spain and Portugal. As an organisation which operates in both Russia and the Gulf (admittedly our office is in Abu Dhabi and not Qatar), I have no problem with FiFA’s decision. It affords us, hopefully, opportunities to which we need to begin applying our collective minds. But, I think, FiFA’s decision goes to the heart of the changing world in which we are now living and operating.

The emerging markets are continuously pushing and shoving and making commercial life increasingly uncomfortable for more established markets such as our own. The challenge is how British business is able to embrace the new order. History tells us, we tend to be pretty good at that.

And the Government is becoming more successful in facilitating that. The Coalition Government has placed promoting UK plc at the heart of the FCO’s efforts overseas, and the UKTI, the Government’s investment body, has become more sophisticated in its efforts in trying to help generate new business opportunities.

In our sector of creative services, UKTI has a plethora of initiatives to promote UK smaller and medium sized businesses in priority markets, including trade fairs, trade mission and setting up new business meetings etc. And their activities in priority markets including the UAE and India where we operate, is noticeable.

FiFA’s announcement may have been disappointing (and lacking in some accountability), but in truth it joins a long list of high profile international events and institutions heading to emerging markets where they find greater reach and, increasingly, more reliable sources of investment.

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