This is filthy. World soccer’s governing body, FIFA, shocked the world today when it announced the hosts of World Cups 2018 and 2022. The United States were bidding for the 2022 tournament and were widely considered front runners for the prize, with Australia a close second. Instead, both countries lost out to Qatar, the tiny emirate in the Middle East.
With the choice of Russia to host World Cup 2018, the signal is clear from FIFA: Money trumps everything else. Russia being named host at least makes a certain amount of sense; it’s a large, wealthy country that has never hosted the World Cup before but has a rich soccer history, a decent national team, and enough fans to fill the stadiums. The country has problems with transportation, infrastructure, and lodging, but those can be fixed in the next eight years. The real point of concern is Russia’s violence and government corruption. The recently leaked WikiLeaks documents found U.S. diplomats labeling Russia as a “mafia state.”
On the other hand, Qatar makes no sense at all. The country is smaller in area than the state of Connecticut, and its total population is roughly equal to the cities of Dallas and Arlington put together. It gets oppressively hot in the summer (when World Cups are held) and its Middle East location would make the tournament an inviting target for terrorists. The Qatari national soccer team sucks, and it now gets an automatic spot in World Cup 2022 as the host country. Alcohol is banned in Qatar, which will put a damper on most of the parties that typically surround the World Cup. The country also doesn’t have any large stadiums that could hold games, as the United States and Australia assuredly do. Granted, the people putting together the Qatari bid made an impressive presentation regarding the stadiums they’re planning to install. (Check out this below-ground soccer pitch that looks like a laptop computer.) Yet USA had every conceivable advantage in infrastructure, ticketing, and media exposure. There’s some thought out there that FIFA is betting on bringing the Muslim world closer to the world outside it with this tournament. That had better work.
The bidding process was unusual this year in that two tournaments were up for selection at the same time. Even FIFA’s ogre-like head honcho Sepp Blatter eventually admitted that this was a bad idea, with allegations of horse-trading running rampant. England had one of the strongest bids for the 2018 tourney, but when their media outlets exposed corruption in FIFA’s highest echelons, the organization evidently decided to shoot the messenger. Even before the results were announced, the process was widely seen as a sham.
There are plenty of recriminations going round now, from both our president and neutral fans saying Qatar is a poor choice. (And being pretty funny about it.) It seems clear that FIFA needs to be cleaned up, with new leaders who’ll put the sport’s fans ahead of the people who can drop bags of cash on people’s desks. The media outlets in three large English-speaking countries now have reason to go after the corruption. Let’s see them do it.