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The Times They Are A Changin’: Russia and Qatar To Host 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups

Qatar accepts their trophy for winning the 2022 bid. (AFP / Getty Images)

As announced last week in Zurich, in two of the biggest upsets in World Cup voting history, Russia and Qatar were awarded the host nation honors for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments respectively. With the vote last week, FIFA proves yet again that not only is it the governing body for the world’s most popular sport, but it also leads its peers as a medium for ending racism and supporting peace worldwide. As expected, both Russia and Qatar are ecstatic over the decisions, but much attention is being paid to the politicking that went on behind the scenes, FIFA’s problematic current bidding structure, and the monumental challenges that face the host nations.

England’s downfall is Russia’s triumph

Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup beat out bids from England, a joint bid from the Netherlands and Belgium, and a joint bid from Spain and Portugal. England, who is arguably the heart of the soccer world (both in talent and passion), is utterly devastated. And maybe with good reason. As the epicenter of the soccer world, they haven’t hosted the tournament since 1966. They have an embarrassment of riches in terms of infrastructure (stadiums, safety, transport, airports etc.), the most passionate fanbase in the world, and their bid committee included Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William, and David Beckham amongst others. By all accounts, their final presentation was flawless, and before the voting, they were the favorite to win the bid. Not only did they not win the bid, but they were out after the first round. Per FIFA protocol, voting goes on a round-by-round basis with the bid getting the fewest votes being dropped. So essentially England was the first out. Very surprising at the least.

British Media

As with anything controversial in the UK, their venomous media was in some way or form involved. Over the past several months, the Sunday Times had an excellent expose investigating the integrity of many of FIFA’s executive committee members. This investigation proved worth while, because in the end, committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii were banned from voting in the World Cup hosting ballot because they were actively looking for payoffs from potential host nations.

And the BBC’s recent Panorama investigation – broadcast last Monday – accused three FIFA executive committee members of accepting “corrupt” payments and alleged that FIFA vice-president Jack Warner attempted to supply ticket touts in excess of $80,000.

After the decision confirming Russia’s bid and the subsequent fallout with England and their media, many FIFA committee members are claiming part of the reason England wasn’t victorious was the Brit media’s history of outright contempt and chastising of FIFA. Basically, FIFA claimed they didn’t want to deal with the headache that would come with hosting the games in the UK. Perhaps FIFA didn’t want to be a focal point of the British media for the next 8 years? Either way, none of this was mentioned to England’s bid committee during the process, only after they had already been denied.

Whatever the case, Russia did have a very solid bid. Their messaging relied heavily on the point that a World Cup had never been held in Eastern Europe. This approach worked quite well for Rio, as that was a central point in their bid to host the 2016 Olympics (which they eventually won beating Chicago among others). Russia does have much work to do. They only have three stadiums build out of the 16 required by FIFA. Russia’s infrastructure was nowhere near as impressive as England’s. Yet it had other things going for it. Putin has promised no visa hassles, free transportation for ticket-holders, and the kind of security that is famous for discouraging any rebellious sorts. With Putin’s legacy on the line, you can bet he’ll run a tight ship. Also, another thing you can bet on is the on-going, ruthless mud-slinging that is sure to proliferate in the British media over the next few months.

Qatar: The Good and the Bad

While Russia was seen by most as an upset over England, the choice of Qatar left the entire world scratching their heads. The other nations bidding for 2022 were the U.S, Australia, Japan , and South Korea. All would’ve been fine choices, though the fact that Japan and South Korea co-hosted the tournament in 2002 probably disqualified them. The U.S., while just hosting the tournament in 1994, was the favorite to get the nod. The idea is not lost on FIFA that getting America to go ‘all in’ on soccer brings with it massive amounts of the almighty dollar. However, in the end Qatar won out. Granted, there are many parts of U.S. Soccer’s Illumanati that are reeling from this decision (Alexi Lalas looked like he was just dumped by his high school sweetheart). For the most part, the nation as a whole is more concerned with the next guest star on Glee. However, lets take a look at some of the challenges facing Qatar:

  1. The entire country is smaller than the state of Connecticut. The World Cup is the world’s largest sporting event so will Qatar be able to handle the massive influx of tourists for the month?
  2. Qatar is the desert. Average temps during July hit about 120 degrees. How will the players and spectators deal? Word coming out of Qatar suggest that they will be using cutting edge technology to make open air air-conditioned stadiums. What does that mean? I really have no idea, but I DO know it doesn’t sound that environmentally conscious.
  3. Infrastructure. I mentioned above that Russia had a lot of work to do because it only had three of the FIFA sanctioned 16 stadiums required to hold the World Cup. Well, that’s three more than Qatar. More on this later.
  4. Their national soccer team is brutal. As a host nation, your national team automatically qualifies for the tournament. Not only has Qatar never qualified outright, they are amongst the world’s worst. Luckily, if they get eliminated in the first round it wouldn’t be a first for a host nation. Thanks South Africa!
  5. Qatar is an Islamic state. Which is all right and good, however check out these current laws:  public intoxication or short skirts dictate incarceration and/or deportation. But Qatar’s emirs have accepted that the alcohol will flow like oil in the FIFA Fan Zones. But, um, just in the FIFA Fan Zones? That should be fine though. As we all know, after massive amounts of alcohol are consumed, it gets easier to follow the rules and stay within aforementioned boundaries. No problems there.
  6. Safety. In a part of the world that has been mired in systematic violence, can Qatar keep the participants and fans safe?

These are just a few of the immediate concerns, as I’m sure a multitude more with crop up on a daily basis.

So Why Did Qatar Win?

Most say money. If you have a pulse and any type of intelligence level, you know Qatar is rich in oil. Quite rich in fact. I mean, how else would a nation smaller than Connecticut, in the middle of the desert, even be in the conversation to host a World Cup?

To be fair, since 1993 Qatar has hosted (and hosted well) some big athletic events. For example the ExxonMobil (shocking) Open in 1993, the FIFA Youth World Cup in 1995, and most recently, the 2006 Asian Games. Granted, these can’t even sniff the scale of the World Cup, but there is some experience there.

Also, as part of their bid, Qatar promised to spend $40 billion on a rail and metro system to move fans around, in addition to 16 new state-of-the-art stadiums. As I mentioned above, there is a little bit of a stink of pay-offs around these stadiums. Because Qatar has no reason to keep 16 massive stadiums in their country after the World Cup, they are building all the stadiums in a way that will make them (relatively) easy to break down. Then, after the tournament, the stadiums will be sent to other countries. Many speculate that many of the countries that voted for the Qatar bid will be seeing these stadiums in the long run. Albeit this story is speculation, it makes a lot of sense.

So was there some type of collusion in play to help Qatar win the bid? I can’t say for sure, but I’m old enough to know you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. However, I’ll leave the muck-raking to the British press. They have more time and energy to look into such matters, not to mention they’re paid much better for their efforts.

I think the larger message here lies in FIFA’s selection of Qatar for 2022. As I mentioned earlier, FIFA truly is groundbreaking in using sports to break down cultural barriers. We live in a time where the advent of technology has made the world a much smaller place. Also, as we all know, over the past 50 years (and the past 20 in particular), there is an increasing divide growing between the Western World and the Middle East. I’d like to think that FIFA (and president Sepp Blatter) saw this as an unbelievable opportunity to start forging relationships between world powers under the guise of enjoying a soccer tournament. In the long run, hopefully the 2022 World Cup serves as a beacon for years to come in international relations.

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