“We had the best bid, FIFA said we had the best technical bid, FIFA said that we had the best commercial bid and were the lowest risk – apparently this is not enough.”
The words of David Cameron hours after strutting his funky stuff on the presentation podium, flashy head mic and all like a groovy seminar speaker giving an impassioned speech on the merits of self improvement, or possibly printer toner. D Cam, Becks and the Fresh Prince of thin hair pulled out all the stops in Zurich but it was futile. It was futile not because the eventual winners Russia pulled out more, far from it. In fact they pulled out less, as Vladimir Putin stayed at home to wresting bears and thwart bank robberies in his underpants. Nor was it futile because of their superior awe inspiring presentation video (though their magically confusing euro-trance techno number dream sequence featuring ball juggling cosmonauts and suspiciously eastern European looking Italian players was certainly a welcome flash back to the heady days of Eurotrash with Jean–Paul Gaultier). No it was futile because nothing we, nor anyone else did was going to change FIFA’s pre-determined minds. No matter what anyone says. FIFA have an agenda, and it’s one that – whilst on the face of it achingly worthy and commendable – is never the less a worry to the hoards of football fans, players and also rans who make up the throbbing heart of football (and FIFA’s) commercial base.
Not that anyone should doubt the merits or success of Eastern Europe’s first World Cup, let alone one in a country with a rich and diverse history in not just the game but in the very competition it has now won the right to host. But the merits of the process which led to it’s victory, and the idealist driving force behind it, can not unfortunately fall outside of the glare of criticism.
For it was in the second announcement of the day that FIFA’s true colours were revealed, and in which the real consternation began to manifest. Because the announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 tournament raised not just eyebrows, but serious questions about the validity of the whole process, and of FIFA itself.
One thing can be almost certain though. Qatar will host a blinding event (as will Russia). Oh they’ll be fantastic. Without a doubt. They’ll throw so much pomp and spectacle – and copious cash – at it it’ll be like Disneyland meets Vegas meets Dubai with football thrown in. And I, like countless others, will more than likely go (ifs permitting) but that isn’t the point..
The point is this.
That FIFA are now first and foremost a politically driven institution, and one with ideas well above their own station, and that the overbearing feeling is that the actual base aspects of football and World Cups – the quality of football played, the teams actually playing, the fans actually going and the practical risks and merits involved – are no longer taken into any consideration when deciding who hosts the football World Cup. When the worst technical bids win, you can not legitimately say it was for footballing reasons. Which is all a bit silly really isn’t it?
I’m sure there are many who’ll declare, very honestly and earnestly, that “it’s fair they’re given a chance isn’t it? Football’s not just about the European elite!” but they’re unfortunately missing the wider picture and point at hand. The World Cup isn’t a charity drive, it’s a football tournament, but Blatter (at face value at least) seems to be trying deliberately, and very forcefully, to give it to countries who don’t seem suitable as an incentive to get football to a larger and more abundant set of consumers. He’s trying to create a legacy. At cost, and not just an economical one. FIFA does not exist to act as a bastion of equal opportunities, it exists to deliver the best for it’s game and it’s fans.
I’ve got no problem with that philosophy though. In essence it’s a great one and I for one love the fact the World Cup went to Africa last time out. In fact think it should go to countries who wouldn’t normally see top class football or have the passion but need a catalyst as often as is permitable. But that it should be the one and only criteria for success is wrong. And if it is to be, then what is the point of the whole bidding process to begin with?
To disregard the bids that can assure a fully functioning, history laden, practical, safe and successful World Cup consistently, for the sake of Blatter’s legacy, is to disregard the core of football and it’s fan base for purely political ends. And that’s without even touching on the idea that a country shouldn’t use the World Cup as an incentive to clean up or modernize their act (or earn their standing) once they’ve gotten it. They should do that as an incentive to be worthy of bidding in the first place. When did the World Cup become “Pimp my country?” or “Win a night with a famous footballer!”?
To clarify my point, lets look at the last four decided hosts and what their merits have been:
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South Africa – The first World Cup in Africa. Little history in the competition itself (comparatively) but a deserving one historically for the continent as a whole. Practically it didn’t initially meet the criteria though, with little infrastructure to begin with and concerns over safety, weather, altitude, travel and inner ear sensibility. Although it ended up not being a great World Cup (subjectively) it was at least worthy and in the end a success for the country itself.
Brazil – Deserving on historical merit easily (so much so no-one else bid). Though containing many of the same concerns over safety, travel and readiness as it’s predecessor. However because of it’s long and rich history with football and specifically the World Cup, no one can begrudge it it’s chance.
Russia – Again, deserving on historical merit, though it’s lack of previous is more down to it’s own failings than any dastardly western conspiracy. Concerns remain over it’s readiness (and it’s racism) and once again an infrastructure has to be built from relative scratch with many travel headache’s for fans.
Qatar – The first World Cup in the Middle East is a bold and worthy endeavor but the country itself has a non-existent footballing history and a size and population that barely dwarfs Liverpool. Accommodation demands seem a worry as do weather and safety with it being ranked lowest in FIFA’s risk assessment, a criteria that seems almost completely pointless in hindsight. And once again it has to build everything from scratch.
So in the last four hosts, none have seen a country with both a deserving history and a suitable infrastructure at the ready. Yet it’s the fans that go to these things and the players who play at them that are at the core of what World Cups are. They haven’t been given much consideration in this. Because it isn’t about that. They’ve all been political in one way or another and this is the problem. I’m fine with two, even three of these new venture/development opportunity hosts. But all four? Not as a fan who will try and go to all of them, and not as a football fan who wants to see the best tournament possible.
I’m all for the idea, but slip in a country with an already concrete infrastructure in between why don’t you? Japan was the right choice for 2002, as it followed France and preceded Germany and after the USA before it, was the right time to experiment. But to have four consecutive World Cups in places with such questionable suitability or merit is maddeningly frustrating.
Qatar is not a footballing nation by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it really a “developing nation.” (It’s the 2nd wealthiest place on earth per capita.) If FIFA wanted to merely give a World Cup to a deserving nation who’ve never hosted why not try a place like Holland? A country whose players, fans and people have contributed to both game and competition richly for decades and never once hosted it, despite plentiful stadia. They weren’t in the same draw you may argue (though my point is the larger consistency) but if you wanted to give it to the Middle East, why not wait until one of the more prominent Arab states with a proper footballing history came up with a bid? Not just the first one with serious cash and access to adobe After Effects. A joint Emirates bid would’ve been far more worthy than hosting it in a country that is little more than a holiday resort for rich business men. They have done little to deserve the most prestigious and popular tournament in world Sport other than being an interesting choice in an untried environment. The World Cup is not a traveling circus though, it’s a football tournament. First and foremost. Isn’t it? Well not anymore.
I’d hate to come across as a jingoistic European elitist frustrated or perturbed by the developing world ‘stealing’ the game I’ve had the privilege to enjoy on my doorstep since my birth, but as someone who will try and go to all these tournaments, I’d like to see one hosted in the best place for football at least once in the next 20 years. The idea of experimenting with different landscapes and fan bases is incredibly commendable, but it shouldn’t be the Raison d’etre of the process. Five of the last six tournaments have or will have been held in places not ready to do so when awarded and five out of the last six winners have not been the highest rated in criteria/technical aspects (the one that was was Brazil, who ran unopposed.) Three out of six is what they should be aiming at.
The World Cup is for the World but by enacting this kind of positive discrimination FIFA are in danger of alienating the very fans who’ve lined their pockets for so long, and damaging the very players who’ve brought them such global power. Nobody can tell me that games in 50-degree heat are ideal or even sensible for Lionel Messi to showcase his skills. No one can tell me that a country with the highest risk assessment is more deserving than the one with the lowest, and if it is, then why bother with such assessments in the first place? There was no point in England pulling out any stops, or even bidding, and nor was there for any of the other bidders because FIFA’s agenda was always set. I could go into the self-interested implications of hosting in countries without the stringent regulatory bodies or already contracted and built infrastructure but it would seem bitter and churlish. As would asking how hosting in a country where homosexuality is illegal promotes kicking homophobia out of football? Whether FIFA’s motives are noble or otherwise, their agenda is clear. And the footballing world better get used to it. For better or worse. We might not see a World Cup in its prime environment for a while to come. And as such – though I hope I’m wrong – we might not see a great World Cup in that time either.
You can follow Oscar on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/oscarpyejeary where you can help start early support for Somalia 2026.