Cup vote raises questions
Russia and Qatar top England, US
The “mother country’’ of soccer? No chance for the 2018 World Cup.
The world’s richest nation in terms of stadiums? Not good enough for FIFA.
England and the United States had high hopes for their World Cup bids, but it turned out they probably had little chance in the executive committee voting.
Yesterday, Russia (2018) became the first Eastern European country and Qatar (2022) the first Middle Eastern nation to be awarded the World Cup finals. The announcements made by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Zurich clearly shocked both losers and winners, raising questions about alleged corruption in the bid campaigns and the behind-closed-doors voting process.
The results could confirm the beginning of the end for the European/South American power axis of FIFA, signaled by the 2012 European Championships being awarded to Poland and Ukraine.
The bids of England and the US received the highest ratings from the FIFA technical committee, certain to generate maximum profits with minimum investment and worry. England had Prince William, David Beckham, and Prime Minister David Cameron in its corner. The reward: two votes, one from Geoff Thompson, the country’s representative on the 22-member executive committee.
High-ranking FIFA members Issa Hayatou, Ricardo Texeira, and Jack Warner had been named in a recent BBC corruption probe, generating speculation that Warner would withdraw his support (along with the three CONCACAF votes he controls). FIFA had already suspended two committee members who allegedly sold votes as part of a tabloid sting, and the organization is becoming increasingly concerned with media scrutiny.
Among the explanations for going to Russia and Qatar was that FIFA wants to avoid such scrutiny; or, there may be a commitment to bring the World Cup to new frontiers and a genuine intent to use soccer to influence socioeconomic change, as in South Africa this year.
The US was at least in contention. The other contenders for 2022 — Australia (zero votes), Japan, and South Korea — were eliminated after three rounds of voting. Then Qatar outpolled the US, 14-8.
The Qataris proposed a high-tech World Cup, with futuristic, air-conditioned stadiums to avoid the 110-degree summer heat.
After going to South Africa for the 19th World Cup and settling on Brazil for 2014, FIFA might have been tempted to go with First World profits and reassurances. That had been the organization’s modus operandi.
Now, FIFA is going on faith that Russia will fulfill its commitment to building stadiums and Qatar can overcome its designation by the technical committee as the highest-risk candidate for 2022.
The technical report “showed the US at the top by a very wide margin,’’ said US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. “But this is the technical report; it’s an election in this case.’’
Gulati said the US had identified Qatar as its top competition.
“We thought it would come down to the US and Qatar,’’ Gulati said. “We never took anything for granted and in the end we believed Qatar was our strongest competitor.
“When I saw their presentation in Angola in February — the air-conditioned stadiums, the outline and presentation by their CEO — I said, ‘This is not a fantasy, this is a dream.’ And dreams can happen. I think it was a dream and a dream realized.’’
Gulati, who sat next to former President Clinton during the announcement, said a successful US bid would have accelerated the growth of the sport.
“President Clinton was very engaged in this; he has been involved for a long time,’’ Gulati said. “He was obviously disappointed, along with the rest of us. Everyone is disappointed.
Asked about a possible 2026 bid, Gulati said, “All of us involved in this want to sit back for a little bit, not very long, before we look at the future.’’
“We submitted a bid that was ranked at the top of the bids along with a couple others. There’s an economic study that’s been written that puts us pretty clearly at the top in 2022.
“We’ve got a country of 320 million people with a great soccer story. So that was our bid and I think we told our story well.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.