Monday, July 23, 2012

2018/2022 World Cup Hosting Investigation is Desperately Needed

Recent rumblings suggesting that FIFA is likely to examine the process by which Russia and Qatar were, respectively, awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, should be welcomed.

Back when both hosts were announced, I was willing to believe that FIFA had chosen the winners based on a desire to spread the World Cup Finals to new frontiers, an ideal in itself that is not necessarily a bad thing.

When it was first suggested by many, particularly in the England camp, that there were all kinds of shenanigans going on in the lead up to the votes and subsequent announcement, it came across a little as sour grapes, and one was left with a feeling that England were willing to play the same games if it would have resulted in their bid being successful.

Indeed, we saw the English national team travel to Trinidad & Tobago in 2008 for a match that officially was played to celebrate the hosts' centenary. We now know it was probably an attempt to win the vote of not only Jack Warner, but also his entire CONCACAF voting bloc. We also know that this attempt ended in abject failure.

The other stories to emerge seemed so unbelievable as to be impossible. Tales of Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz's entourage asking for a knighthood or for the FA Cup to be named after him seemed completely bizarre. But in the light of the recent revelations about numerous members of the FIFA Executive Committee, it seems that anything is possible.

Russia is not the worst place to hold the World Cup Finals. True, there may be some long distances between venues, though no worse than in the USA in 1994. There is also the issue of alleged widespread corruption and numerous examples of racism. Russia's at times controversial politics, of which their attitude towards Syria is just the latest example, could also be viewed as a negative.

Yet despite these issues, Russia at least ticks many of the boxes. It is a footballing nation with a reasonably well-developed infrastructure, experience in hosting other major events and a country currently booming economically.

But what of Qatar? None of the stadia currently exist, the country has never qualified for the World Cup Finals and homosexual fans could be imprisoned, but most worrying of all is the extreme summer heat and humidity.

The recent Oceania Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands showed how much excessive heat and humidity can negatively affect player performance. And even if, as suggested, Qatar can find a way to cool their stadia, that still leaves hundreds of thousands of fans having to deal with the heat in between matches. Combined with the unavailability of alcohol, it's hard to picture a thriving Fan Zone experience.

Michel Platini, who voted for Qatar, has recently made a habit of saying that the Finals could be played in the winter. Such a plan would surely be hugely disruptive to the major European leagues. Besides, the Qatari bid was for a summer World Cup Finals, and that is what Platini voted for, rather than the USA, Japan, South Korea or my own personal favourite, Australia.

There have been rumours that at least two prominent African FIFA Exco members walked away with huge sums of money after voting for Qatar. These rumours suddenly hold more weight, given the recent findings that Mohamed bin Hammam, who was to all intents and purposes, the impetus behind the Qatari bid, had been using the funds of the Asian Football Confederation like they were his own back account. This came just days after bin Hammam was cleared of wrongdoing in the Caribbean Football Union bribery scandal, not because he was found innocent, but because there was insufficient evidence.

And this is now FIFA's problem. Because of the recent rash of corruption involving major FIFA figures, including the only two FIFA Presidents in the last 34 years, FIFA could run the cleanest, most transparent vote in history, and the football world would still believe that skulduggery was involved. That is what happens when a culture of corruption is allowed to exist, grow and fester without anything being done to curtail it.

Defining the culture and setting ethical expectations is one of the most important roles of any President/CEO, and Sepp Blatter has not only been incompetent in this regard, he has also aided and abetted corruption.

So now we are forced to believe that impropriety was involved in the decision to award at least the 2022 World Cup Finals to Qatar, if not also the 2018 tournament to Russia. And can we also now assume that the reason FIFA decided to award both the 2018 and 2022 hosting rights on the same day was to give the current Exco members twice as much chance to receive bribes?

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