I’ve had about eleven hours to think about the results of the 2022 World Cup announcement, read my peers, and come to grips with the failure of the USSF to land the World Cup. And I think I have a handle on my thoughts and emotions about today. I watched the announcement via the EPL Talk live blog and Twitter, so I was spared the gut-punch of seeing the card with Qatar on it. However, the announcement still hurts as I type this.
I think Qatar is a deserving host for the World Cup. I like the idea of the World Cup bringing peace to a troubled region is a great idea. Civilization began in Mesopotamia, and it’s only fair that after eighty years the region have a chance to host. Their government and citizens were 100% behind the bid. Say what you will about the air-conditioned stadiums that are portable, but if anyone can build an impossible building, Qatar can. They have the money to do it. Seeing pictures of their celebration and the speech thanking FIFA, even the hardest hearted person has to feel a little happy for the delegation.
As for the United States, we acted as though we had a right to this tournament, when in reality what right do we have to the World Cup? The lead story on Sportscenter this morning was LeBron returning to Cleveland, not the World Cup announcement. Even after the United State’s dramatic matches in the World Cup, MLS television viewership fell off in this country. When we accuse other countries of not being able to truly honor soccer during the World Cup, we should hold our tongue until the ratings and attendance for MLS approach those of foreign leagues. We (that is, Americans) should never have assumed the 2022 World Cup was ours.
And yet, the way it all went down is what made this whole thing rotten.
If you believe there were no politics in play on this FIFA Executive Committee, I have waterfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you. England, the birthplace of the sport and home of the sport’s most well-known player (who presented the bid!), received fewer votes than a joint bid between the Netherlands and Belgium. Coincidentally, the British press aired their high-profile investigation of FIFA this week. But that was 2018, not 2022, so maybe the committee put aside their politics and made the selection based completely on the merit of the bids.
Not quite. Anyone who tells you that Qatar is like the U.S. in 1994 is delusional; Qatar is not only not using the World Cup to build a domestic league but is even exporting their stadiums to other countries! If FIFA wanted to boost a domestic league, they would have given the event to Australia, whose A-League needs a boost in popularity. Also, it can’t be coincidence that the two winners were both major oil money countries with very suspect undergrounds. If FIFA was afraid of its image being dragged through the mud by the BBC, it gave a big fat middle finger to the world media and gave the event to two countries with very suspect human rights records that also are plush with oil money. Even is this was not why the two were selected (and I don’t think it was entirely), the perception is there and FIFA can’t counter it.
My other concern with the Qatar World Cup is something people have joked about but is a real issue – the restrictive societal laws in the country. Maybe FIFA can figure out a way around it, but can Budweiser be the official beer of the Qatar World Cup? Drinking alcohol is a big no-no in Qatar. Additionally, will FIFA sponsors be hesitant to associate themselves with a Qatar World Cup if their record on women and religious minorities does not improve? And the Middle East is not exactly known for political stability – there is a real risk some sort of conflict could be going on during the World Cup. An improving Israel could face a very awkward run to the World Cup. The fact that they were selected despite all this really throws the legitimacy of the bid into doubt.
One other item to note on today’s selection – FIFA may have been sending the U.S. a message with the selection of Russia for the 2018 World Cup. Russia announced recently that its top-flight league would begin playing a fall-to-spring schedule beginning in 2012, despite the notorious Russian winters. There is no doubt in this fan’s mind that FIFA was sending a not so subtle signal to the U.S.
At the end of the day, the United States hosted a World Cup in 1994, and maybe we only deserve to host one every so often. I wrote about the impact of losing the bid on U.S. soccer, and it will hurt MLS and the other domestic soccer entities, but they will go on. Soccer will not die out because of what happened today, and we should not consider bending to the will of FIFA in the hope of getting another shot at a World Cup. But we should all be a little more humble and a little more dedicated to improving our sport here.