One of the reasons I have delayed writing a post about the shambolic events that took place at FIFA Headquarters in Zurich last week, was to try to take some time to digest what happened and come to an educated conclusion without calling the FIFA executives a bunch of crooks. Now that sufficient time has elapsed, I truly believe that the FIFA executives are a bunch of crooks.
I’m not going to bore you all by describing the sordid details of the voting for the winning bids to hold the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. Suffice it to say that Russia won the right to hold the 2018 World Cup and Qatar, the 2022 version. I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that both these choices were surprises, with the Qatar choice, leaving most soccer people scratching their heads.
Six months ago, no-one would have given any chance to either of these countries being anywhere near the final round of voting. Qatar was a distant blip on the radar and the Russian bid was mired in suspicion and intrigue that only Moscow can provide. England and Spain/Portugal were comfortable front-runners for 2018 and the USA and Australia looked to be the only serious contenders for 2022. One thing that you can be sure of is to never be sure of FIFA’s motives and last week was no exception.
So what happened ? How did 22, supposedly intelligent, successful, soccer-educated people determine that these two countries should hold the largest sporting tournament in the world, rivalled only by the Olympic Games.
2018 was a simple choice. Only 4 bidders and all European countries. In addition to England and Spain/Portugal, we had Belgium/Holland and Russia. All strong presentations but some more suited than others to host. The English bid, led by Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron, and David Beckham, looked a strong favorite. Spain/Portugal in recent weeks had closed the gap considerably on England to the point where many people thought that they were neck and neck at voting time. Many observers thought that England’s time had come and would be a perfect host but when the votes were cast, we heard that their’s was the first bid eliminated.
My own personal opinion is that the English were naive to really think that FIFA would consider just the visible strengths of each bidder, and that they would not be blindsided by vote promises that misled them like lambs to the slaughter. If you are foolish enough to believe that gangsters like Jack Warner are men of their word, then you’re a sucker.
Several problems existed. Firstly, the English are way too arrogant for their own good in FIFA’s eyes. The fat cats in Zurich hate the fact that England expects a World Cup because it is the birthplace of the game. Historically, you can go back to the 1930′s when the English FA refused to support the World Cup ideal as they felt they “were too good” for international competition. The 1966 tournament in England was marred by poor refereeing, over-physical tackling and excessive jingoism from the eventual winners. Secondly, the bid was flawed from the start. The appointment of Lord Triesman to head the bid team was an act of suicide. Not a footballing man, and not respected within the game, his reign was punctuated with resignations and mishaps. I think the bid would have been better served by the Premier League people who have a successful track record of how to do these things. The criticism of FIFA officials by the English media with allegations of bribery, culminating in a BBC Panorama program aired on Monday of last week, pretty much torpedoed the whole process. There’s no doubt that this was the major stumbling block.
2022 was a little different. The USA and Australia were clearly the more professionally capable of holding a solid tournament. The USA would guarantee huge crowds at wonderfully elegant stadiums and with the internal air travel system, fans would have no trouble travelling between venues. Australia has a spectacular tradition of hosting large sporting events and Sydney 2000 definitely showed how capable they are. However, the emergence of Qatar was ominous for both front runners as money seemed to be no object, and the plans of their bid team, presented a unique format with which to create a so-called “legacy”.
The sad part is that none of the stated bid requirements meant a damned thing when it came to the vote. Probably the only criteria that the committee used was that both countries have never hosted before. Other than that, both successful bidders had gaping holes in their presentations which in the final assessment, meant nothing. In my opinion, it was purely the availability of cash, not money, but CASH, that swung the votes. I’m fully confident that in years to come, the cash windfalls of those fat, old men on that committee, will come to light. You only have to look at the $15m that was paid to Zinadine Zidane to represent and support Qatar to get some appreciation of what happened under the table and in that voting room. In general, the decision to award Russia the 2018 tournament is not one I have an argument with, and I wish them luck. They are a country with a vast wealth and a healthy tradition in the sport. My beef is with the way in which it happened, and how it unfolded. Again, money was the motivation and lots of it.
FIFA has clearly presented itself in an unfavorable light as a result of this, not just to the losing bidders, but to the smaller countries too. Going forward, if the bidding process stays the same, some of the more traditional countries will decide against bidding. It may result in a regular occurrence for these future tournaments to be held in less prominent countries, which may, as unlikely as it may seem, result in maybe some players and teams deciding to pass up the tournament. An extreme view but possible now. Stronger clubs across Europe have already shown that they are not afraid of breaking away and forming their own administrative organization which is how the G14 came about. don’t be too surprised either if in preparation for 2022, some prominent European and South american players suddenly acquire Qatari citizenship.
At this point, obviously the die is cast. However, if I was captain of this ship, I would do several things to change the way the sport is run. Firstly, I would do everything in my power to probe the activities of the FIFA executives in an attempt to make them and their decision processes more transparent. If they are afraid of the English media, then give them a good reason to be scared. I would also make it a priority to veto any attempt by Sepp Blatter to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. That possibility in itself just shows how ridiculous FIFA and it’s officials have become.
Secondly, I would, along with the help of Spain, USA and Australia, start to squeeze FIFA on the implementation of video technology through the IFAB. The English FA are charter members of that committee which determines all rule changes within the sport. In England, I would elect David Dein as the FA Chairman, and start a 5 year plan to reorganize the game to give the England squad every chance to win the 2018 World Cup, and I would announce those intentions too. In the USA, Sunil Gulati needs to revamp the MLS to make it a more competitive League, maybe implement ProRel, so that the National squad has a larger number of better quality players available, and also make the same statement, that the USA’s goal is to now win the World Cup in 2022.
England will get over this disappointment, and the USA won’t miss a beat, but I’d like to see some reforms initiated to make FIFA a more democratic organixation. Even if you agree with the final choices, I think we’re all sick and tired of the people who run our sport,and I even have a new slogan for both the USA and England teams for 2022 and 2018. “If you can host it, then win it”.
After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about the money anyway.