For someone like me who has ties to both England and the United States, the decision by FIFA to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively hurts.
I watched the announcement Thursday morning on BBC World News from my cabin aboard the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship while sailing north west of Cuba on unusually stormy seas. To say that the news beamed live from Zurich on Thursday put a sour note on my vacation is putting it lightly.
When FIFA President Sepp Blatter pulled Russia’s name from the envelope for the 2018 World Cup, I was disappointed. But when Blatter announced the winner of the 2022 World Cup, I was furious. How could FIFA committee members award the 2022 competition to a country that has never qualified for the World Cup and when the tournament would be played during summertime in the brutally hot deserts?
In some ways, I’m not surprised by FIFA’s decisions. FIFA has often failed to exercise common sense whether it’s regarding its refusal to utilize technology to make the game fairer, or whether it’s FIFA’s decision to have committee members vote on the 2018 and 2022 tournaments at the same time, which increased the likelihood of collusion.
Also FIFA’s long history of bribery, corruption and other unsavory actions doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. As investigate reporter Andrew Jennings has proven time after time, money often corrupts FIFA’s decision.
I have no evidence that Qatar or Russia offered bribes to influence votes in their favor to win the 2022 and 2018 World Cup tournaments, but as WikiLeaks showed again Thursday, Russia continues to have a history of government corruption. And Qatar was suggested to have been in collusion with Spain and Portugal according to Lord Triesman.
The frustrating aspect of the awarding of the World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar is that it seems that FIFA is only interested in generating long-term revenue streams. By hosting the first World Cup tournaments in the former Soviet Union and an Arab country, FIFA will financially benefit in the long term from the new interest in the sport by people within that region and, even more importantly for FIFA, legions of new sponsors who will be attracted to the game.
If FIFA’s goal regarding the World Cup is to bring it to different areas of the world, as well as leaving a legacy of what Sepp Blatter achieves as FIFA president, then the writing is on the wall for future tournaments. That’s good news for China and Australia, but bad news for England and the United States of America.
You have to wonder how damaging the UK media was to the 2018 England World Cup bid especially as The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama exposed bribery within FIFA’s ranks. Seemingly investigative journalism that exposes FIFA doesn’t go down too well among FIFA committee members. We have to wonder whether this was a determining factor in England being knocked out in the first round of bidding for the 2018 World Cup.
Regarding the 2022 tournament, the US World Cup bid organizers may not have been too pleased with The Guardian newspaper who was complicit in support of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid when it wrote a piece of puffery after the reporter was sent on an expense-paid trip to Doha, paid for by the Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid Committee.
But while Russia’s winning bid for the 2018 World Cup wasn’t a complete surprise, Qatar winning the 2022 one was a complete shock. Other than hosting the tournament in a region that has never had a World Cup tournament, there seems to be hardly any good reasons why Qatar should have won. The nation has never qualified for a World Cup tournament before. The weather conditions are brutally hot. But even with air-conditioned stadiums that will then be deconstructed and transported to third-world countries, you have to wonder what carbon footprint that will leave.
England and the United States were well deserving of hosting the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments respectively. Now the earliest that England can host the tournament is 2030, while the United States will have to wait just as long.
Maybe next time our hopes will not be as high as they were this time especially when common sense goes out the window when FIFA is involved. The awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar is depressing news for the western world, but at least we have our domestic leagues to enjoy instead.