Home > Football > Has FIFA really made two huge mistakes?

Has FIFA really made two huge mistakes?

This Thursday gone (2nd December) in Zurich, the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 editions of the World Cup were announced. FIFA had made it clear beforehand that the 2018 tournament would be held in Europe and so England, Russia, and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium all campaigned for the right to host the tournament. Russia won by a landslide, needing only two rounds of votes to do so. The 2022 bidding process was a more global affair with South Korea, Japan, Australia, the USA and Qatar all competing for the right to host the world’s greatest sports tournament. The only country with no history of hosting major sporting events, Qatar, won. Both decisions were met with heavy criticisms from news outlets the world over, but has FIFA really erred in its judgment as much as these vehement critics claim? In the case of Russia 2018, no.

The team of inspectors that recently compiled a highly detailed technical report on Russia’s bid described it overall as medium-risk, with air travel singled out as high-risk. There is no doubt that there are significant issues that need to be overcome prior to the World Cup in Russia. The country’s transport system is creaking, air travel is poor (not an insignificant footnote in the world’s largest country) and there is a lack of accommodation for fans and teams alike. Furthermore, the unsavoury topics of high crime rates and racism in Russia’s major cities have also been mentioned.

The biggest problem facing Russia however is the amount of construction work required. Fourteen new stadia are to be built in Moscow, Rostov, Krasnodar, Samara, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Volgograd, Yaroslavl, Sochi, Nizhny Novgorod and Saransk, with reconstruction planned at Moscow’s Dynamo and Luzhniki stadia. The St. Petersburg site, which will be the new home of Zenit St. Petersburg, is due to open next year, three years late. FIFA will be hoping that this is not a sign of things to come. Construction on such a large scale is a challenge for any country, let alone one whose economy is playing catch up to the rest of Europe and if preparations for Euro 2012 in neighbouring Ukraine are anything to go by, FIFA may be sweating right up until kick off.

These issues gave the other bidding nations a great deal of confidence, perhaps even arrogance. The England bid team, led by Andy Anson, strutted around and gave a sense that they felt the self-proclaimed ‘home of football’ had a divine right to host the tournament. The English press wrote at great length about the country’s first rate stadia and transport links, although anybody who has ever travelled to Wembley on the tube or Old Trafford on the tram may be inclined to disagree with the latter. David Beckham and Prince William remained gracious in defeat but if everything is in place in England to host the best World Cup ever, everybody involved with the bid team should ask themselves how they failed so spectacularly to secure the tournament.

The English media however, were anything but gracious. Despite the absence of any hard evidence to support their claims, the newspapers ran headlines such as SOLD (The Daily Mirror), FIFA BUNGS RUSSIA THE WORLD CUP (The Sun) and the very imaginative WHAT A FIX (The Daily Star).

Russia being awarded the World Cup is actually a good decision on the part of FIFA. One of the federation’s stated aims is to develop the game globally and if the likes of England, Spain and Portugal already boast top stadia and transport links, why do they need the development that the World Cup brings? FIFA’s programme of frontiering started in 1994 when the USA hosted the World Cup for the first time. It was a great success (even if the final was awful) that helped popularise the sport in the world’s biggest economy and their Cold War nemesis can benefit in exactly the same way.

Taking the tournament to Russia will see the erection of 14 new, state of the art stadia, transport links improved in a vast country and football introduced to a nation in which football is not the automatic sport of choice for many. Increasing the game’s global reach by targeting new markets can only be a positive thing and by choosing South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018, FIFA seems to have a clear plan of global expansion. Its aims are not of course purely noble. Exploiting such a vast and potentially very lucrative market will no doubt allow football’s governing body, and all those associated closely with it, to make huge amounts of money. Anybody who still believes that the World Cup is still just a football festival is at least 20 years behind the times.

The decision to award Qatar the 2022 edition is however mystifying. Like Russia, the tiny emirate received the worst technical report but was still awarded the tournament. Whilst the argument that Russia is a new market and its rival bidders from Western Europe were not stands up, the same can not be said of Qatar. Australia has never hosted a World Cup and is a major growth market for FIFA, as is the USA, and both of these countries have excellent track records when it comes to hosting major sporting events. Either of these venues would have satisfied FIFA’s aims of developing the game and leaving a lasting legacy. Instead the Executive Committee opted for a small emirate with a population of less than two million and which is awash with petro-dollars. They opted for a country with absolutely no sporting pedigree or history, and anybody who watched last year’s friendly between Brazil and England in Doha would be forgiven for having serious reservations about the atmosphere in Qatari stadia.

Sepp Blatter announces Qatar is to host the 2022 World Cup. (This image of the property of Getty Images)

The country’s laws will also be something never before seen. Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in Qatar and alcohol is available in a select few, very expensive hotels. Being seen in public with alcohol is outlawed, something unlikely to please long time sponsor Budweiser. It has been speculated however, that there will be a relaxation of this law with possible exclusion zones around stadia. Time will tell.

Like Russia, Qatar must embark on an ambitious program of stadium building. The plans look fantastic and in a country in which money is no object, this should not pose a problem. In fact, the money is clearly there to provide any infrastructure necessary and neighbouring Bahrain may also help by housing fans.

The biggest issue with a World Cup in Qatar is undoubtedly the weather. Temperatures of 50°C are not uncommon and the average for June and July is around 45°C. This is surely much too hot for a professional football match that could last as long as 120 minutes. FIFA’s own guidelines state that anything above 32°C is potentially dangerous and that all games must be played with an open roof, which rules out indoor, air-conditioned stadia. The Qataris are working on outdoor, air-conditioned stadia in an effort to combat the sweltering temperatures, but there is no proof to show how effective these are for players physically exerting themselves for 90 minutes. These temperatures could cause serious problems and one must question FIFA’s thinking on the matter.

Again though, FIFA is taking the tournament to a new territory and it is certainly no coincidence that it is in what is possibly the world’s richest region.  It opens up yet another lucrative market and has the added bonus of helping poorer nations as the stadia built will be dismantled after the tournament and rebuilt in developing countries. This is thought to have swung the vote in Qatar’s favour.

There is no doubt that there are serious risks associated with the two venues chosen on Thursday but with great risk comes great reward and it is on this age old adage that FIFA is gambling. The sport’s governing body has not fixed the outcome and its aim of making the game truly global makes sense. Sepp Blatter and his cohorts would be well-advised however not to alienate those who have stood by them for so long. World Cups in developed, football-loving nations should not become a thing of the past at the expense of new, money-spinning territories and if FIFA plans to make this the case, it should be honest with the likes of England, Spain and the USA and save them the bother of putting together excellent bids.

The problem lies not so much in the decision reached, but in how it was reached. Seeing Russia win such a landslide and rank outsider Qatar win makes it seem that the outcome was pre-determined all along, that the Executive Committee made up its mind a long time ago. FIFA may be pioneering in the way it is taking its showpiece to new countries, but it is about time it modernised and replaced the grossly outmoded system of 22 men voting in a secret room with a more transparent and 21st Century-friendly one.

Categories: Football
  1. miles
    December 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    South Africa should get it again!

  2. Chris Hollindale
    December 5, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    1. And you put it better than me too. Sorry – I was going to go to bed before I read this. Can I blame that for not noticing? 🙂

    2. I’m most definitely not stating it as fact, but I would say that the voting was hugely suspicious. I’d expect that some serious effort will be put into investigating these bids over the next few months/years, so we shall see…

    P.S. This is not the first time the papers have stated speculation as authoritative fact on their front pages 🙂
    P.P.S. When I was in Australia, I used to love watching the Champions League at 6:30am before going to work!

    • December 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm

      Haha. I’ll accept that excuse as I am off to bed now too.

      I know you were not stating it as fact but some of the reporting in the red tops was a joke. Like you say, nothing new there!

      I remember the disaster that was Japan/South Korea in 2002. Getting up to watch matches and being in the pub at 8 a.m. I don’t fancy that again!

  3. Chris Hollindale
    December 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Just a couple of points, though I pretty much completely agree with everything you’ve written:

    “One of the federation’s stated aims is to develop the game globally.”

    If this is the reason Russia were selected, why should FIFA merrily drag five countries through the bidding process and then just completely shun them? I agree that it’s fair enough if they want to go along with Blatter’s “legacy” idea, as long as they just say so up front and save us all the hassle and wasted money.

    Secondly, if this was also the reason Qatar was chosen [let’s be honest, can you even think of a possible alternative reason? Every other factor screams “NO”], why did Australia only get one vote? Another new territory with fantastic potential and no major hurdles at all. And for that reason I can’t look at those voting figures without thinking that a lot of money has been deposited in some Swiss bank accounts.

    Some recommended further reading that I came across a couple of days ago: http://swissramble.blogspot.com/2009/10/power-corruption-lies.html

    • December 5, 2010 at 11:11 pm

      Cheers for the comments Chris, always appreciated.

      Regarding your first point, I did say this in the penultimate paragraph and I completely agree with you. (“World Cups in developed, football-loving nations should not become a thing of the past at the expense of new, money-spinning territories and if FIFA plans to make this the case, it should be honest with the likes of England, Spain and the USA and save them the bother of putting together excellent bids.”)

      Qatar is more difficult to understand than Russia. Like you say, everything screams NO and Australia must feel incredibly hard done by. In the run up to the vote, the BBC speculated that the time zone could hamper the Australian bid as it really does not suit the most luctaive TV market for FIFA (Europe), but I don’t feel this is itself is a satisfactory answer. Bribery is always a possibility, but there is no evidence at this point. Unlike our beloved press, I am not prepared to state it as fact with no proof. They are no talking about playing it in January, which would be farsical.

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