Last Thursday marked 7 years to go until the 2022 World Cup final which of course is going to be held in Qatar. Now normally this kind of countdown is normally made in July and is exciting. However with the negative publicity of FIFA recently over corruption allegations and the suspension of several senior management members the magic doesn’t seem to be there. Also with all the allegations of vote buying and concerns over suitability will the tournament even take place in Qatar?
It was 5 years ago this month that the world was on the edge of its seats awaiting to see who was going to host to showpiece of world football and in England we thought we had a good chance. David Beckham, Prince William and Fabio Capello were drafted in to promote the England bid. On the 2nd of December 2010 the moment came as Sepp Blatter came on the stage an announced that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were going to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively. When the results were announced there was some upset that England wasn’t going to host the world cup and some surprise as prior to this most football fans probably hadn’t even heard of Qatar.
Prior to the vote taking place allegations of vote buying appeared in both The Sunday Times and the BBC Panorama programme. Initially the FA accused the two media outlets of hurting England’s World Cup bid. Indeed there may be some truth to this as England only received 2 out of a possible 22 votes to host the 2018 tournament, far less than what would normally be expected. As the awarding ceremony was being wrapped up however the FA then accused FIFA of vote buying something the FA had only the past week dismissed. Sepp Blatter denied any allegations of wrongdoing stating that the FA were just bad losers and that the voting was fair and proper.
One thing many people forget is England were never going to host the 2022 World Cup, as the rules state the same continent can’t host two tournaments consecutively an agreement was made that the European bids would be for 2018 while the 2022 world cup would be hosted by a non-European country. Russia was chosen as the host for the 2018 World Cup over England’s bid as well as 2 joint bids from Belgium & The Netherlands and Spain & Portugal. As well as Qatar the other nations bidding to host the 2022 World Cup were South Korea, Japan and the United States, prior to the voting taking place the United States was seen as having the strongest bid.
Since that 2010 afternoon however the allegations of corruption have not gone away. Several FIFA executives have been suspended and some have been given lengthy bans for corruption. Because of this there has been calls for both contests to run again but realistically could this happen? The World Cup has moved before as Columbia was due to host the 1986 tournament but because of financial pressures Columbia had to forfeit their hosting rights and the 1986 tournament was then held in Mexico. It should be noted however that Columbia voluntarily gave up the right to host the 1986 tournament, which is something that Russia and Qatar are unlikely to do. With Russia and Qatar being vastly different countries it’s important to look at both of them individually.
With Russia 2018 the chances that the tournament will be moved are slim and are becoming less likely as preparations go on. Although there have been allegations of corruption hosting the world cup in the world’s largest country is not without its merits. Football is very popular in Russia and they are quite good at it, we have all heard of their big clubs such as Zenith St Petersburg, CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team normally qualifies for most international competitions. There have been some non-football related concerns about Russia as hosts relating to the Ukraine Crisis, human rights and LGBT rights although given that Russia regularly hosts major sporting events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics, 1980 Olympics and the 2008 Champions League Final it has experience of hosting big events. It’s not impossible for Russia to be stripped of the right to host the 2018 tournament although given that that the tournament is due to take place in two and a half years its unlikely there would be time to rerun the whole bidding process.
With Qatar 2022 things are less certain, the prospect of the gulf nation hosting the showpiece of world football is still surrounded in uncertainty. The oil rich nation’s bid contained some breath taking proposals such as constructing stadiums that could easily be moved so that they could be donated to undeveloped countries after the tournament and improving the standard of football in Asia by bringing football to a new part of the world.
Despite these positives there have been concerns about the suitability of Qatar for hosting such a major tournament. Unlike Russia Qatar doesn’t have a rich footballing history, the Qatar team is currently ranked 86th in the world and is yet to qualify for any World Cup. Other major controversies have included the availability of alcohol and if homosexual fans would be allowed to attend as both of these are illegal in Qatar. Workers rights have been a major controversy as migrant workers are doing the construction of the stadiums for the 2022 tournament and some reports suggest that large numbers of people have died during construction.
The biggest issue by far however has been that of Qatar’s climate as temperatures in the summer can hit 50°c. To solve this problem the Qatari bid team showcased state of the art cooling technology that in theory can lower the temperature inside a stadium by an impressive 20°c. This however was not enough to convince FIFA that hosting a summer world cup in Qatar would be realistic and FIFA made the controversial decision earlier this year to play Qatar 2022 in November and December. The unthinkable had suddenly become a reality a winter World Cup? The worrying prospect that FIFA said wouldn’t happen. This proposal hasn’t gone down well, as all the domestic leagues of the world factor in the world cup and moving the tournament to winter will mess up their league schedule.
Since 2010 Sepp Blatter has stated that the decisions that FIFA made in 2010 were a mistake and should not have happened. Despite this he has stated that the decision to award the hosting rights to Russia and Qatar should stand. As Sepp Blatter has now been forced out of the FIFA presidency it remains to be seen if his eventual successor will take a different view on the matter.
Should any allegations of vote buying be proven it would be of severe embarrassment for both FIFA and the two host nations. There would undoubtedly be calls for the process to be run again and calls from the failed bid teams to be reimbursed for the cost of their bid preparation. Rerunning the contest would also present the issue of if either tournament was to be moved Russia and Qatar would likely ask for compensation for costs already spent on preparation. Any decision would be open to a legal challenge that could result in more embarrassment for FIFA.
Whether the next two world cups do take place in Russia and Qatar as planned remains to be seen although one thing for sure is that FIFA will be carefully scrutinising all future World Cup bids to prevent anything similar happening again.