18th Jan, 17
GOOD SPORT - by Patrick O’Flynn MEP, UKIP spokesman for sport
I SAW a report that FIFA is to up the number of teams at the World Cup to 48 in an article in The Times written by an old journalistic mate of mine called Martyn Ziegler.
Martyn’s scoop said the expansion would be in place by the time of the 2026 tournament.
Straight away I felt this was a bad idea for football. The tournament would surely be overloaded with uncompetitive group games and become a test of endurance even for the most ardent fans.
But then I read a piece a few days later that said England was being quietly urged by footballing bigwigs worldwide to put in a bid to host the World Cup in 2030 and that started me thinking.
If the World Cup becomes a tournament of twelve groups of four teams then very few countries are equipped to host it. Potentially as many as 24 top quality stadiums would be needed and not many nations can provide that.
England, however, is one that can. And we have a spread of stadiums right across the country that would grace a top international tournament.
One could imagine pairs of stadiums within the same or adjacent counties hosting each group so no team has to travel too far before the knockout stage began.
On the proverbial back of an envelope, I drew up possible group stage venues, selecting by a stadium’s capacity, quality and sufficient proximity with its sister venue; Newcastle and Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Leicester, Manchester City and Liverpool, Manchester United and Stoke, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton, Norwich and Ipswich, Bristol City and Southampton, Brighton and Chelsea, the Olympic Stadium and New White Hart Lane, Wembley and the Emirates.
As the tournament progressed the smaller venues would progressively fall out until semi-finals at Old Trafford and Wembley and the final, again at Wembley. Every region of England would have several matches and the fans would come out in their droves to support the greatest ever festival of football.
I’m sold on it and just hope the FA now take the idea of making a bid seriously. I still think a 48-team tournament is pushing it, but if it brings the World Cup Finals back to England then I think I can cope!
DAVID Beckham was on my train from London to Paris at the start of the week (I was heading to Strasbourg for the European Parliament’s plenary session).
The last time I saw him was in Singapore in 2005, when he was part of the bidding team for the London 2012 Olympics and I was following Tony Blair around while Daily Express political editor.
Becks had changed his hairstyle since then - in fact he had probably changed it a couple of hundred times - while I had not.
Unlike various other passengers, I did not go up and ask for a “selfie”, though I saw he was very obliging to those who did.
But I can report for the benefit of those who care about such things that he was wearing a purple beanie hat, a parka over a baseball jacket, black jeans and a particularly handsome pair of brown suede boots. And very stylish he looked too.
I AM a great admirer of Rugby Union - particularly those who play it at a high level. But I cannot help but grimace at the force of some of the collisions in the modern game.
A new report has found that concussion injuries in the professional game have increased for the fifth season in a row (though it is important to state that overall injury numbers are down).
I know the rugby authorities are working hard to reduce contact to the head and are rightly taking concussion more seriously than ever before.
And yet I cannot help but regret the increasing transformation of top level rugby into a sport for giants seemingly in every position bar scrum half and fly half.
I wonder what Rugby Union fans would think of height and weight limits being imposed for players outside the pack?
With the Six Nations looming, part of me longs for the days again of twinkle-toed runners like Mike Gibson or Jeremy Guscott - players who danced round opponents of similar stature rather than giants who habitually run into and through each other.
I am not disputing the staggering levels of fitness and athleticism of the modern era, just wondering if there is anything that can be done to improve prospects for the talented titch.