The BBC and the World Cup bid: A few thoughts

So hands up who was disappointed by the Panorama programme on Monday night? Any investigation given the build up this Panorama got is always going to need a killer revelation and I’m not sure this programme had it.

I will always argue that the BBC should not have bowed to pressure to postpone the programme on the grounds it might impact on England’s World Cup bid. If the World Cup committee is prepared to swing behind a different nation just because our media shone a light into a murky corner of FIFA, then I’m afraid I’d argue I’d rather we didn’t get the World Cup.

But the timing of the programme did make me stop and think – not least once we’d seen the contents. At the heart of the programme were a series of allegations involving events which happened, in the main, over a decade ago. The only true link to the current bidding process is that three of the committee members were allegedly involved in something which happened a decade ago.

In that respect, the Sunday Times investigation which alleged demands of cash were being made in return for votes for the current bidding process, is much more relevant. It had everything to do with the current bidding process and the potential for it to be manipulated. The Sunday Times ran it in plenty of time, FIFA took action and everyone moved on.

The BBC’s investigation, on the other hand, could have been broadcast at any point – it had little bearing on what is going on in Zurich this week. Rather like the Sun’s decision to back the Tories being made public on the day of Gordon Brown’s conference speech, the timing of the Panorama programme does appear to have been timed for maximum impact.

When challenged, the BBC has insisted its investigation is justified on the grounds of public interest. Quite right. But what about the timing? Why this week?

However, some of criticism has been a little excessive. The Sun enjoyed going to town on the BBC today on both the front and back pages – yet The Sunday Times, a sister News International title, also found itself accused of potentially damaging the World Cup bid with its allegations a couple of months ago. The Sun appears to be mistaking the BBC for a soft target.

Then there’s those who’ve been strangely quiet on the BBC programme. I’m thinking of Gary Lineker, who took his ball home from the Mail on Sunday after the paper’s sting on Lord Triesman, which led to a change at the top of the 2018 bid. At the time, Lineker was quoted as follows:

“The story itself, the circumstances surrounding it and the actions of the Mail on Sunday in publishing it have undermined the bid to bring the World Cup to England in 2018,” Lineker said.

“I wholeheartedly support the bid, because I believe that hosting the tournament would be brilliant for the country, and I am an official ambassador for it. I have therefore taken the view that I cannot continue as a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.”

The England camp have said the BBC Panorama programme makes their job harder (although that does feel a little like getting an excuse in early). Will we see Lineker quit the BBC in protest as well? He’s also still writing for the News of the World.

All in all, I’m not sure anyone’s covered themselves in glory on this one.

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