Not many expect England to win the World Cup, but progress and hope for the future certainly is high. A mis-step off the pitch is unforgiveable. So, what are the key challenges?
1. Leave the politicians to diplomatic manoeuvring
There’s no avoiding that the tournament is controversial. The foreign secretary dragged the FA into a geopolitical debate by suggesting Putin will use the World Cup to further his worldly aims and Gareth Southgate has already been forced to dismiss his incendiary comments.
While soft power rhetoric will be difficult to miss come 14 June, the FA will be crossing its fingers for success on the pitch to counter difficult questions. The debate should be controlled, focused on football and off diplomatic relations.
2. Protect our fans, please
Perceived performance on and off the pitch will be crucial. We saw some of the very worst of England fans’ behaviour in France in 2016, leaving a bitter taste after the result. From fans being told not to fly flags, to MPs anxious about what the Russian fans have waiting for them following scary documentaries, the FA (and the Foreign Office) need to put the safeguards in place to protect our fans and keep them out of trouble.
3. Lead by doing
The FA needs to use the World Cup to demonstrate operational change. It must be almost unprecedented for three chairmen to have become open critics of the organisation’s ability to reform itself. This speaks volumes about systemic governance issues. The Aluko-Sampson scandal was the perfect media exposé: accusations of contractual breeches, social media confusion, a refusal to apologise and a Select Committee hearing where the dysfunctionality of the organisation was exposed.
So long as this trend continues, suspicion from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and warnings from the Government to curb funding will continue. Another grilling from Damian Collins et al is always around the corner.
4. Commitment to grassroots
The grassroots picture remains bleak: Participation continues to fall, whilst demand for all-weather pitches sky rockets. The FA’s CEO Martin Glenn is right: the sale of Wembley does represent an opportunity. The FA should stay good to their word on investing in grassroots from the sale, or they risk falling into the same hole as the £350 million-a-week Brexit Bus. They can harness this World Cup as a platform to demonstrate the commitment further and capitalise on renewed interest in the sport during the summer.
5. 2030: A measure of success for all of the above?
The UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has openly flirted with the idea of ‘Britain’ hosting the World Cup in 2030. This should be a chance to showcase the enduring and unconditional passion that underpins English football. The world will be watching not just how our fans behave, but also how our national team conduct themselves off the pitch.
If they get all the above right and demonstrate that as organisation the FA is open, transparent and with a commitment to getting more people from all walks of life engaged in the game, then we stand a chance of hosting it.
Watch this space.
Charlie Macey is an account manager at Trafalgar Strategy