The World Cup hosts were revealed Thursday- Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. This shocked a lot of people, making some perplexed while others were happy. You can count me in among the former because I thought the two nations were among the weakest choices, especially Qatar. I had to engage in a little facebook exchange defending my opinion after I put it up as a status update, so I can understand that some people think the opposite about the two choices, with both set to be first-time hosts of the World Cup.
The bidding process was hit by some serious scandals. The process itself was weird from the start when it was determined by FIFA that the hosts for both 2018 and 2022 were to be decided. Usually, as with the Olympics, the World Cup host is determined ahead of time, but only for one tournament at a time. Why this was, I’m not sure though this process won’t be repeated again. There was a bunch of corruption allegations, which is not surprising, but it seems this time it was really thick. Thick enough that two members of the FIFA executive committee that chooses the hosts were suspended for allegedly seeking bribes in exchange for their votes. FIFA “investigated” these members, as well as several other officials, and found they had breached parts of the code of ethics, but not actually engaged in corruption. Then British state broadcaster BBC aired a special documentary on high-level corruption within FIFA that mentioned, surprise, surprise, well actually no, bigwig Jack Warner, a FIFA vice president and Trinidadian Cabinet minister. Four members of FIFA’s executive committee, remember – the 22 guys who vote to select the hosts – were directly implicated in the program . Surprisingly, well actually no, England crashed out in the first round of voting for the 2018 host, finishing dead last with 2 votes, one of which was from its own member. A shattered and furious England has come out from this debacle absolutely flabbergasted, with Jack Warner again being allegedly involved, this time being accused of breaking promises (putting his arm around Prince William and promising him his vote for England). Not only the England, but the mighty USA has had to eat humble pie as well, itself crashing out in the vote for 2022, though it actually lasted until the last voting round where it went head to head with Qatar and lost. Like England, the USA also isn’t taking this loss well. Even Barack Obama said FIFA made “the wrong decision.”
It’d be easy to cue the laughter and the desire to sneer at two first-world powers getting all indignant over receiving a comeuppance from the rest of the world, but actually there are valid and sad lessons to be gained from this. First, ignore the temptation to treat the reactions of the USA and England as sour grapes and look at the circumstances. These two nations received the highest technical ratings from FIFA, along with Australia. This meant that when it comes to present facilities, transportation and other sorts of infrastructure as well as safety, these countries were seen as the best. For the US, filled with 32 NFL stadiums, each with at least 50,000 capacity, across their vast nation which could easily be modified to stage football matches, they were seen as barely needing to do anything to create match facilities. Qatar, meanwhile, has “little infrastructure to speak of” for holding an event like the World Cup. All their stadiums, barring one or two, will be have to be newly constructed, meaning they don’t exist yet. There are concerns with heat, which will be so hot during the time the World Cup will be held that all stadiums will be air conditioned.Qatar though has promised to dismantle them and ship them to developed nations, presumably for free. This sounds good but it’s premised all on hypothetical plans and designs on paper and animation. Given that they have 12 years, plus a ton of oil money, they might be able to do it but honestly it says something when concrete reality isn’t seen as important. The nation has less than 2 million people, still more than Trinidad, and a large number are not even citizens. They have never qualified for the World Cup and probably have never even come close. There is support from some people over the fact Qatar will be the first Muslim, and first Middle Eastern nation to hold it, but are they really a suitable symbol? I could think of several nations such as Egypt, Morocco, Turkey or Saudi Arabia that could be suitable Muslim hosts. Actually I was not a big supporter of the US bid as I preferred South Korea and Australia, which would also have been a first-time host.
Meanwhile Russia surprisingly won the right to host the 2018 “European” World Cup. While they’ve got a decent footballing pedigree and they are a giant nation (the world’s biggest actually), I feel it striking that China got savaged for being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games while nothing has been said of Russia’s questionable (putting it mildly) human rights record both home and abroad. They’ve fought all-out wars against a sovereign nation (Georgia, 2008, though admittedly Georgia invaded disputed territory that is protected by Russia) and domestic breakaway regions (Chechyna, Ingushetsia), threatened to withhold oil from neighboring nations during times of deep cold, allegedly interfered in elections and politics of neighboring nations like Ukraine, and has been alleged to be involved in the deaths of Russian critics including a notable local journalist. Now that Russia is going to host the World Cup and nobody is angry about it based on their abominable human rights and geopolitical conduct, I look forward to not hearing any complaints over China’s future bid to host the 2026 or 2030 World Cups.
Both these nations were rated among the lowest by FIFA committees and both have serious infrastructural, demographic and security issues, though both are oil-rich. New territories indeed for the World Cup, but it seems like the wishful trumps reality in the soundness of the bids.