As the football world continues to debate FIFA’s controversial announcement yesterday to award Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, pundits around the world are trying to reveal the positives of the exciting upcoming World Cups (and some continue to point out negatives). Here are my personal five thoughts after yesterday’s huge announcement:
1 Whose “legacy?” One of FIFA’s focus areas when determining World Cup hosts is the “legacy” aspect. Throughout all of the bidding presentations this week we continuously heard about each bidder’s proposed “legacy,” but after all is said and done, what kind of a legacy does FIFA look for in each bid? For Sepp Blatter, this was his last host announcement of his presidential career. It’s no coincidence, then, that this was the first (and probably last) time that two World Cup announcements will come at once.
One forum poster at RedCafe said it best: “FIFA officials know that England or Spain/Portugal could host a World Cup tomorrow, and that fact actually puts them off. It hardly boosts their reputation or sense of self importance to use Wembley or the Nou Camp. No, they prefer the thought of walking into some expensive new stadium in the (football) wilderness and thinking to themselves, ‘I did this. Aren’t I a wonderful person to have brought this gift to the people of Qatar.’”
2 Location, location, location. I think we can all agree on one thing: this World Cup bidding process had absolutely nothing to do with infrastructure. The Qatar bid includes a plan to build nine stadiums and renovate three, while the Russian bid includes plans to build an astonishing thirteen stadiums. England, the United States, Holland/Belgium, and Spain/Portugal all have the existing – and historic yet still modern – infrastructure to host the World Cup, as well as strong local support and financial backing. It’s a huge surprise, then, that a few of these bids (England and Holland/Belgium) were discarded with little to no consideration (as evidenced by England’s shocking vote tally of two), while the other two sensationally lost out.
Since it’s not about infrastructure, and I already discussed the merit of any legacy arguments, the decision came down to one thing (corruption aside): location. Sepp Blatter kept reiterating his excitement at bringing the world’s largest sporting event to new corners of the world, and I can’t help but think that’s the only positive difference between the Russian and Qatari bids versus their competitors. Did the elective committee even consider the Western European, American, or Australian bids? I think not.
3 FIFA needs transparency. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this has been perhaps the most disgraceful build-up to any major FIFA announcement in history. Why? The elective committee was full of characters that history suggested shouldn’t be trusted. Instead of taking the English media’s revelations to heart, it appears that England’s bid was punished. Now, questions remain as to why England was eliminated in the first round, how Australia gained just one measly vote after being considered amongst the favorites, and what criteria gave Russia and Qatar success.
To eliminate these questions and to enhance the credibility of future FIFA announcements, the world’s governing body needs more transparency. Who voted for who? Put the pressure on the voters to be honest by letting the world know who voted for who. It’s easy to do wrong when no one is watching. I’ve heard rumors that FIFA may release the full voting results, and that will be a step in the right direction.
Even then, though, it’s a mystery as to how a “source” had already told Alan Shearer and company that England were voted out in the first round, long before Sepp Blatter made the official unveiling. It surely explains why there were so many long faces around the England contingent, but how did anyone know the outcome before the FIFA President? Or was Sepp in on it, too?
4 The Evaluation Group doesn’t matter. It may have been one of the most crucial stages of the entire bidding process, but many people were unaware of the importance of the Evaluation Group’s visits to each respective bidding nation. Nevertheless, the Evaluation Group was tasked with inspecting – and grading – each of the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and in doing so they reported to the elective committee the merits, risks, and precautions for each bidding nation. The full reports are available online, and having reviewed these it’s obvious that these were completely disregarded (perhaps as part of the geographical preference, which was seemingly made without consideration with the actual logistics and operations).
The Russian and Qatari bids actually ranked as the highest risks by the Evaluation Group, and the Qatar bid in general raised a significant number of concerns from Harold Mayne Nicholls, the Chairman of the FIFA Evaluation Group. Among them, the Evaluation Group voiced concerns over the fact that one international airport (New Doha International Airport) will be the primary air gateway for the entire tournament, and the inspectors urged voters to consider the “potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family, and spectactors.” Sure there will be air conditioning inside the stadiums (which is, by the way, yet to be tested, as the Evaluation Group’s report pointed out), but what are the thousands of football fans going to do on the way to matches and while they hang out in the cities before the matches? Air conditioning the entire country is not an option…
5 No matter what, the World Cup is great. Finally, no matter how negative yesterday’s announcement may have felt for me, it reminded me that no matter what, the World Cup is great. Football transcends everything difficult in life; as President Clinton so eloquently pointed out, the beautiful game can go where politics can’t. Countless times I’ve had passionate discussions with people who don’t speak the same language as me simply because we can communicate the names of cities, teams, and players.
Hosting the World Cup in Russia and Qatar is a pleasant reminder of this; no matter how different our cultures are, no matter how far apart we are, and no matter how different our politics are, when the moment arrives, we will all unite as one. Football truly is the world’s game, and Russia and Qatar both have some very special attributes to share with the world. While some corners of the world may be complaining today, this week, or this year, when 2018 rolls around we’ll all be as excited as ever.
Feel free to share your thoughts and observations in the comments section below!