FIFA: For the Benefit of Its Members, To the Detriment of the Game
December 2, 2010 may go down as one of the most dubious days in the history of world football. This will be seen as the day FIFA’s Executive Committee members and its president gave a giant middle finger to the traditional football powers in the world as well as those who may feel like shining a light on their shadowy dealings. FIFA awarding the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar was a message sent loud and clear to those that want to open up this secret society to increased scrutiny that the FIFA ExCo members are instead circling the wagons and gearing up to protect their positions within FIFA as the only power brokers in international football.
FIFA’s bidding process for these two World Cups was born out of prior mishandling and miscalculations in the awarding of prior World Cups. More to the point the 2006 process was dogged by corruption and bribe accusations leveled at many bidding nations. Germany came out the winner in spite of the public backing of the South African bid by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and to the genuine surprise of many observers. The 2010 and 2014 process was less of a process and more or less giving the nations of South Africa and Brazil the World Cup in order to represent their continents in Blatter’s failed vision of bringing a World Cup to every continent on a rotating basis. This combination of corruption (2006) and lack of competition (2010-2014) combined with a scheduling crunch that faced South Africa and now Brazil to meet stadium and infrastructure deadlines led FIFA to combine the awarding of 2018 and 2022 at the same event. This solution was seen as a way to give winners time to adequately prepare and reduce corruption. As we have seen with the awards Thursday, corruption is a hard habit to break in the glass halls of FIFA.
Let me preface this article by saying I am not here to lay out specifics of actual bribes offered by the winning nations or am I offering evidence of specific bribes accepted by ExCo members. The perception however has become that the members of the FIFA ExCo are looking out for their own individual interests first when it comes to the awarding of World Cups. Other priorities like leaving a legacy for the host/region of economic and sporting benefits has taken a backseat with the interests of the travelling supporting not even registering on the radar of the ExCo. The awarding today of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has done little to change this perception. There comes a point when perception begins to solidify as reality and the events of the past week have done little to crack that reality.
The two strongest bids going into the vote Thursday by FIFA’s own reports were England bidding for 2018 and the United States 2022. They had minor to no-needed improvements to stadia or infrastructure according to FIFA’s own reports. In the end England got only 2 votes and lost out in the first round of voting for 2018. The US barely got enough votes in the first round to make the next round of voting for 2022, but made it to the final round only to lose to a nation with only one stadium in place that meets FIFA regulations. It raises the question why bother with these pre-vote FIFA ExCo tours of bid nations’ stadia and infrastructure. What a farcical show they put on touring such hallowed grounds like Old Trafford, Anfield, St. James’ Park or Villa Park. England, Spain/Portugal and the US rated extremely high based on FIFA’s pre-vote standards in terms of risk, meaning the venues and infrastructure are in place already and were likely to create tremendous profit which FIFA claim are their only means of raising revenue which funds all of FIFA’s other projects and ventures globally.
I have the mental image of an ExCo member in the halls of Old Trafford telling Lord Coe, “This is a lovely stadium but how will you transfer my ‘vote fee’ to my Zurich bank account?” In the US, it might have gone, “These stadiums where these hulking padded up American footballers collide are ready to host tomorrow, but can you send my kickback by tomorrow?” Or in Spain, the beaches of Barcelona providing a beautiful backdrop for one of those darlings of the 2006 World Cup, the heralded FanZone, only for an ExCo member to suggest “You know Moscow has beaches I’m sure as well, not to mention leaders willing to keep a lid on the press.”
That speaks volumes to where members of the FIFA ExCo want to take football. The spin from FIFA and Blatter will be that FIFA is leaving a legacy of giving places outside the mainstream a World Cup which may have the power to promote football to an ever wider world. Again makes for a great vision and a noble purpose but reality tells a different tale. The recent World Cup in South Africa proved to be a great event in spite of an avalanche of pessimism. The question remains however, did the 2010 World Cup leave a legacy in South Africa? It is too early to tell but it seems like a safe bet South Africa 2010 did not have a wider impact on Africa as portrayed in the run up. South Africa has multi-million dollar stadiums overlooking slums that lack drinking water and have no electricity. Like I said it is early but as of now, such is the legacy of the 2010 World Cup.
Already we are hearing how this is a benefit for “Eastern Europe” and the “Middle East”. It is a tactic employed firstly in 2002. Japan and Korea were tabbed as hosts of the first World Cup in Asia. The venues were fantastic and minus a few of the organizational hiccups that co-hosting a World Cup entails, 2002 was great World Cup. Again though, did Asia as a whole benefit? China, a rival to the hosts in all arenas, may have seen a boost but mainly due to their qualifying for the tournament for the first time ever and not because it was taking place a couple of hundred miles to the east. I cannot say with 100% certainty but I am willing to bet football in Malaysia, the Philippines and or Thailand did not explode following 2002 because it was in their neighborhood.
That is what we are hearing already how Russia’s win is a win for Eastern Europe and Qatar’s win is a win for the Middle East. I would attack that notion with a simple question: How much do the people of Poland, Romania or Latvia relate to Russia and similarly, do the residents of Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad feel like they won anything today because their “brothers” in Doha won the right to host a World Cup based on potential oil money they refuse to share with their “brothers”?
This is not an ethno-centric rant. As a supporter of this sport, my concern is to have the showcase event which only occurs every four years to be in a nation that welcomes supporters around the globe, able to take criticism and has the facilities (stadia and amenities) to best accommodate the visitors without breaking the bank. Qatar is pledging $50 billion to make its 2022 dream a reality. You have to wonder if that money would not be better spent helping its Arab neighbors in Gaza or the West Bank for starters. I do not mean to pick on Qatar, but the statement that its mythical stadiums will be air conditioned only to be torn apart and put back together in a variety of Third World nations post-Cup as a legacy (there’s that word again) puts in right in line with FIFA complete “bollocks”.
When the events that led up to this vote are reported on I will not be surprised when we find buyouts, payoffs and favors traded for votes. This week the BBC investigative program Panorama detailed the payouts to FIFA ExCo members in the past. A program that the backers of the England bid feared because they knew the ExCo would be viewed negatively thereby diminishing their chances of hosting. These payments were nothing new, but the eyeopening portion came when no reprimands or punishment was handed out by FIFA. In fact FIFA seemed unaffected by transgressions of some of their executives. Sepp Blatter is no rush to bring any new faces to the ExCo because it carries out his visions, rubber stamps his policies with no second guessing, For Blatter that is worth looking the other way while the ExCo members wet their beaks in the endless fountain of bribes in the game.
England’s bid team may rue the timing of the Panorama report but it instead should embrace it and others like it going forward. So should any other national association and entity in this game that wants to get rid of the personnel that currently make up FIFA. It is a glass house that is in need of shattering. For someone like Sepp Blatter to consistently bemoan the vast amounts of money in the club game, namely in England, to put a bow on the winning bids and expect the followers of this game to just accept that a country like Qatar deserves the World Cup over Australia, Japan, Korea and America insults the intelligence of football fans with access to real information. I get intangibles make up part of the bid process so here’s one, Qatar has never qualified for a World Cup modern era or any era. Remember when that mattered (1994)?
Blatter and his roundtable of bungs today sent the message to England that we hate you. We not only despise you but we hate you. Two first round votes only. We hate your meddling press and its pesky investigations into our side deals. We hate how you claim “Football is Coming Home” when mentioning the possibility of hosting a World Cup. We hate your club teams and how they buy success. They sent a message to Spain/Portugal. We told you no joint bids… uh yeah that’s it. They sent a message to the Americans today. We are in awe of your stadiums and your ability to make us money but we only want your cash not your input. We want to a country to come in to run the tournament free of government regulation (taxes and travel restrictions). We think we have enough eye balls on TV in America we do not need you to host. They sent a message to Australia, Japan and Korea. You all played by the rules but won’t break your own internal rules to have us in 2022. Continue following the game, you will feel great continental pride in 2026 when someone else hosts.