The FIFA executive committee that votes on World Cup hosts uses an ‘exhaustive ballot’ system, whereby the candidate receiving the fewest votes in each round is eliminated until a single candidate is chosen by the majority.
This method is open to corruption, and I’ll explain how below. Note that this is not a condemnation of the system, which is excellent, but a review of the different ways people can influence voting within this method if bribery / vote selling was allowed to happen.
Typically, Members of the executive committee end up being either from the countries one of the bids is from (sometimes) or (more likely) from the same confederation as the bid is coming from. In the case of 2018 and 2022, almost all bids have a representative on the committee.
So while you can expect most ‘initial’ votes to go to either their own bids or to those of their close political allies (for example you can expect Oceania’s representative to vote for Australia 2022 bid), this leaves a raft of votes from outside the bidding confederations that will (supposedly) go to the best bid.
The way things have been set up through collusion between the bidding countries, only UEFA countries are bidding for 2018 and AFC / CONCACAF countries are bidding for 2022. This leaves a vast chunk of votes that can be manipulated for one or both World Cups.
The key to the exhaustive ballot system is the ‘elimination’ of candidates and how that can free up votes. So the initial round for 2018, for example, will see one of England, Russia, Belgium-Netherlands and Portugal-Spain will be eliminated. All four bids have sitting members in the executive committee, and the first loser’s vote will then be for one of the other teams.
What would the price be for a ‘second’, or ‘third’, candidate vote?
Both the bidder nations and those with no apparent interests in where the World Cup goes will go into the voting process with a list of voting preferences – who they vote for first, and who they will vote for afterwards if their preferred candidates are eliminated. And it’s this list of preferences that can be manipulated, bought or sold – whether it’s the ‘second-choice’, or in the ‘first choice’. So Spain may be voting for themselves in the first two rounds of the 2018 voting process but after elimination, and left with England v Russia, they could easily have sold their vote to the highest bidder.
Or it could be Argentina or Nigeria, with no vested interests in either 2018 or 2022, signed up by Russia and CONCACAF to vote for them all throughout.
The barter approach – already much discussed by the press, is more difficult to engineer but can still happen. For example, Spain/Portugal and Qatar are alleged to have agreed to ‘vote’ for each other in the 2018 and 2022 voting process. Of course, Spain’s representative is on the executive committee and so is Qatar’s. Another possibility could be a Russia / Australia collusion (2018 / 2022 again), or an England / CONCACAF collusion, where CONCACAF (3 reps) votes for England 2018 and in return England pushes for the 2022 World Cup to go to the United States.
At the end of it, it’s not direct cash that drives these deals, but favours and increased opportunities to make money. The 2006 World Cup was famously sent to Germany after Bayern Munich made an impromptu trip to the Far East to play in an exhibition game, garnering the crucial vote required to take the World Cup to Europe instead of South Africa. England have made Beckham a key figure in their efforts to garner support in CONCACAF, sending him to the Women’s Under-17 World Cup final, hosting a training event, and also pledging to do more of these stints around the World till 2018 if their bid is successful.
There is a lot of politics and financial interplay that goes into these bids. The South Korean representative may use their vote to garner support for his FIFA presidency bid. The Qatar representative may do the opposite – giving up his presidential candidacy in order to get support for the 2022 World Cup. Maybe Australia will host an Oceania tournament with proceeds going back to the Oceania rep’s shell company. Maybe Russia will tour Nigeria for a friendly game, where all the tickets will be sold by Adamu’s company at inflated rates.
It’s not pretty, and it’s not going to be transparent, regardless of what FIFA says.
Also See: Interview with Andrew Jennings – Investigative Journalist and Author of Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals.