Friday 3 December 2010

2018 - To Russia with Love

Congratulations to Russia and Qatar in winning the right to host the World Football Cup in 2018 and 2022.   This has provoked much bile in the losing countries.  And none more so than in England, which despite spending £15 million on its campaign only managed to win two votes.  As one of these votes was from the English FA delegate, this meant that England only succeeded in persuading one other delegate to support them.  What went wrong?
According to the English bid organizers and echoed massively by the English press, what went wrong was a mixture of corruption on a large scale and a strong dose of anti-English bias.  Now of course if there is any significant corruption within the FIFA executive committee and the English FA knew about this and had evidence of this they should have exposed all this corruption and if nothing was done, not bothered to bid at all.  If, on the other hand England had won, would the English media and authorities still be carping on about corruption within FIFA.  Smells a bit like sour grapes to me.  As the poet wrote - The lady doth protest too much.
Much the same can be said about the claims of anti-English bias.  Again, if there is any evidence of this, the English authorities should come out with this evidence and name names.  They might also care to look a bit into just why there might be some anti-English feelings within FIFA and within football generally.   They might for instance want to ponder a little over the rather arrogant and condescending notion that shaking hands with the future king of England would somehow magically win people round.
In all of this blame game, hardly anybody in England seems willing to look at the changing focus within FIFA.   World Cups were always held in either Europe or the Americas.  Until 2002 that is, when the finals were held in Japan and South Korea.  This was the first time the finals had been held outside Europe or the Americas.  Of course the decision to award the finals to Japan/South Korea was taken in the late 1990s.  Since that momentous decision FIFA has made it quite clear that its policies are all directed to expanding the game worldwide and in particular to take the major events to new destinations.  This direction was confirmed when South Africa was awarded the 2010 finals.
This predisposition of FIFA to favour new hosts meant that Russia were always the favourites to win the 2018 campaign.  The English FA must be pretty much deaf and blind not to have noticed this.  Or just too arrogant and self centred.  Probably a bit of both.  The other irritating complaint to come from the English campaign is that their bid was technically the best and economically the soundest.  Now I am sure the Iberian bid was equally sound so the English offer may not actually have been the best.  However all this spectacularly misses the point.  It is not and never has been the technical committee that makes the final decision.  The facilities in Russia may not at this moment in time be as impressive as those in England, but the World Cup is not due to held this year or even next year, but in 2018.  The prime function of the technical committee is to rule out a bid altogether, if it is felt that the country cannot meet the criteria.   FIFA clearly feel that Russia will be able to meet all the requirements regarding stadia, transport, hotels, communications etc.  If South Africa can do this, as it did so successfully this year, then it is hard to explain why Russia will not be able to do so for 2018.  Russia is a very large country and there will be considerable distances between some of the stadia.  So what?  The USA which hosted the 1994 finals is a small compact country?  Not to mention Brazil which will host the next finals in 2014.
Russia is the largest European country not to have hosted either of the major football championships - the World Cup or the European Championships.  It was thereby the most deserving of winning the right to host the 2018 World Cup.  Well done FIFA and I am sure Russia will provide all football fans with superb tournament.
The decision to award the 2022 finals to Qatar is the most surprising.  Not that they beat the USA bid in the final round of voting.  As with Russia it is good that the 2022 finals goes to a new country.   I would though have expected Australia to be the favourite.  However I guess that FIFA’s thinking is that there is greater scope for promoting and expanding football in the Middle East than in Australia.
The really surprising thing about the choice of Qatar is that it will be the smallest country to ever host the finals.  Qatar has a population of less than two million.  Less than half that of Scotland for example.  Apparently one of the key selling points in favour of Qatar was that virtually all of the new stadia will be temporary structures which will be dismantled after the finals and gifted/sold on to developing countries.  
What the Qatari victory does mean is that the prospect of small countries, such as Scotland, hosting a major event has increased dramatically.  Scotland can no longer be written off as too small.  The use of temporary stadia is another plus factor for small countries.  While I don’t think Scotland should even try for the World Cup, there is now no reason why we cannot put in a credible bid to host the European Championships sometime in the future.

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