World Cup bid at heart of Britain's Brexit sports event plan
LONDON (AP) — Britain is looking to host up to 60 major sporting events over the next 15 years, including soccer's World Cup, to assert global influence and attract trade deals in the uncertainty after Brexit.
The strategy by the UK Sport government agency was announced Wednesday with the country in the midst of a protracted divorce from the European Union to implement the result of the 2016 referendum and strike new international alliances.
Building on the success of the 2012 Olympics in London and the English Premier League, hosting major sporting events is now seen as a key instrument of soft power by British Prime Minister Theresa May's government.
"This is us thinking about ... where the country finds itself right now and the big challenges it has over the next decade, how we can use sport to help the country," UK Sport chief operating officer Simon Morton said. "It feels to me like for the first time in decades our country is going to be in a little bit of nation building."
English soccer officials have launched a feasibility study into bidding for the FIFA World Cup in 2030 not only in partnership with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — but also Ireland.
"The last five years really for us as a country we've been talking about our own identity, whether it's the strength of our unions the United Kingdom or it's how overseas people see us either in Europe or the rest of the world," Morton said. "So Brexit is a massive factor behind this. We want to think about how we can use sport and sporting events to really showcase the best of the UK to the world."
Drawing on the victory by the United States, Canada and Mexico in landing the 2026 World Cup, a British Isles entry is seen as essential to attracting votes in the new system that gives every soccer nation a say in the decision.
England last hosted the World Cup in 1966 when it won on home soil. Two bids have failed since then, and there was anger in the English Football Association and British government about the decision to hand the 2018 tournament to Russia. The feasibility study will include an assessment over whether FIFA's votes can be more trusted since Gianni Infantino replaced Sepp Blatter in 2016 and the electorate was expanded with a public vote.
"We have to recognize that process that FIFA has just used (for the 2026 World Cup) was significantly better than before, significantly more transparent than before," Morton said. "But everybody remembers the process of the last decade. So the FA is doing a feasibility study to look at whether we should bid."
There is less to consider about bids for other world championships.
Plans are in place to bring the men's and women's Rugby World Cup back to the country as well as the world championships for athletics, badminton, boxing, canoe slalom, curling and gymnastics.
With British cyclists holding the three titles from the major races for the first time, an attempt will be made to host the starts of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta. The Ryder Cup has been held twice in Britain in the last eight years — in Wales and Scotland — and an attempt will be made to stage it again.
Hosting the events is about more than prestige for Britain.
"They are really important in terms of projecting an image to the world as an open nation," Morton said. "In terms of trade it's also important."