It’s tempting to claim that bribes, favours, politics and financial opportunity determined the fates of World Cups 2018 and 2022 long before the staged drama of bid presentations yesterday and today.
It’s easy to say that Blatter is taking the World Cup to Russia to make money, or that Qatar got the World Cup to build Blatter’s legacy.
The truth is that on paper, based on the evaluation reports and on existing state of affairs, Russia was the weakest candidate for 2018 with more promise and risk than the guarantee of a quality World Cup that would delight fans, teams, viewers and sponsors. Qatar had little risk (their Middle East location does not automatically make it a potential war zone) but with little or no footballing pedigree and a small country sitting on the equator, it’s not the ideal spot to spend your summer kicking about a ball.
No, there are many practical reasons why Spain / Portugal, Netherlands / Belgium or England should be hosting 2018. There are strong reasons to suggest that the World Cup should have gone to Australia in 2022. But we have the two weakest candidates winning the votes, so there is bound to be suspicion.
Unless you consider something very basic about how FIFA operates – it values independence and privacy over everything else, and no other bidding nations would provide them with a carte blanche as Russia and Qatar – the two countries with the most to gain in political capital (and therefore the most to give out to FIFA as well) from hosting the World Cup.
In hindsight we should have seen it coming. Vote selling is not as simple as envelopes passed under a table or money transfered into an offshore numbered account. Just like in the aftermath of a war, there will be political favours, development contracts and much other financial jinking to ensure that everyone associated with FIFA (as well as those responsible for delivering the World Cup in Russia and Qatar) will profit.
And then there is the very legitimate argument that bringing the World Cup to new frontiers is a good thing for both the game and the development of the host country. That definitely applies in the case of Russia, provided they truly can deliver what they have promised. It doesn’t apply to Qatar, unless you consider bringing the World Cup to the Middle East as a political achievement for FIFA, and that is where all roads lead to – politics and FIFA.
Image courtesy of Soccerlens contributor Lawrence Dushenski.