It’s not something you’re apt to see every day — FIFA president Sepp Blatter expressing regret for a decision he has made. But Blatter apparently recognizes that it was a mistake lumping together the bidding process for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Despite his admission that keeping the 2018 and 2022 bids together caused more harm than help for the FIFA bidding process, though, Blatter said that the show must go on. Both of the next two World Cup cycles following Brazil’s stewardship of the tournament in 2014 will be decided when the 24 voting members (if indeed it remains 24, but more on that later) meet on December 2 to vote.
If there is one problem that can be pinpointed in any biennial or quadrennial tournament, be it the World Cup or the Olympics or the various semi-annual world championships on the international sports calendar, it is the risk of collusion, corruption and a fixed vote. We saw the IOC forced to come face to face with the corruption in its own process last decade, with the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics illustrating just how much graft goes into securing one of these tournaments. Sites must be visited, but this also presents an opportunity for kickbacks, lavish spending on voters and vote-swaying by means other than the quality of facilities and the plan being presented.
It is difficult enough to prevent such occurrences of corruption in the best of circumstances, but FIFA went one further this time around to make their lives that much more difficult. It is one thing to be contrite and entirely another to make inroads toward rectifying the situation.
It all started in 2007 when FIFA made the wise decision to scrap the straight rotational method it had implemented to expand the scope of continents earning the right to host the spectacle. For the future bidding, the continental confederations which have had a member nation host the tournament in the past two cycles will no longer be eligible for the next shot at hosting. In other words, neither Africa (South Africa 2010) nor South America (Brazil 2014) will be eligible to host the 2018 tournament; for the 2022 bid, South America and the confederation of the winning bid the 2018 Cup will be ineligible.
Just looking at that, it’s a shrewd move on FIFA’s part. Instead of one confederation watching its teams slash at each other in the bidding process, each of the other four eligible continents can put their best foot forward and support one another’s candidacies. Had this been the only thing altered, there would have been no problem. In all actuality, opening up the bidding process between the best available countries around the globe serves to improve the tournament by eliminating the potential in the old distribution of having one continental giant effectively upstaging anything their local rivals could pull off.
But FIFA went one step further, deciding to open up the bids last January for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. With four European bids and no other continent represented in 2018 — anticipating the old system, where Europe would earn the hosting rights, the contest is between England, Russia, and joint bids by the Iberians (Spain and Portugal) and the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) — it comes down to Africa, North America, Asia and Oceania. So for 2022, we’ve already seen the bids emerge. The Americans will try to host the tournament for the first time since 1994, which is also the last time a CONCACAF (North American) nation got the opportunity to stage the Cup. No African challenger emerged, and with Australia having moved to the AFC (Asia) rather than staying in the OFC (Oceania), the latter has no bid either for the tournament. So this comes down to a straight battle between the United States and four Asian challengers.
Where’s the controversy, you may be asking by this point? It’s pretty simple… anyone who throws their name in the hat for 2022 can try to link up with one of the 2018 bids to create a voting bloc to push through the desired result in December. With just five weeks left before the vote becomes final and we know where the next three World Cups will be held, we’ve already seen some shady dealings erupting:
- FIFA has been forced to suspend two of its two-dozen voters after Nigeria’s Amos Adamu and Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii were caught by London’s Sunday Times in a sting investigation demanding bribes for their vote to what they thought was a U.S. consortium of sponsors intending to land the Cup for the States by any means necessary. This is the most damning of all, as two would mean a country already has more than eight percent of the vote in a five-way race.
- Russia and England have returned from the brink after some verbal sparring left the two looking shoddy. It all started when England filed a formal complaint with FIFA after Russian bid chief Valeri Sorokin apparently highlighted London’s high crime rate and youth alcohol problems in England against FIFA protocol for discussing rival bidders. Then Viacheslav Koloskov, an honorary president of the Russian Football Union, fired back: “There is no reason for Russia to fear sanctions. There won’t even be an investigation. It’s a comical situation. The English are afraid of how badly their bid is going. Instead of talking about their own advantages and merits, they try to disorient their rivals.” He may have been crass, but he was right — after a formal apology from the Russians, the English redacted their complaint. But the chippiness demonstrates the cutthroat reality of any bid process.
- Worst of all, though, are the accusations of collusion between 2018 and 2022 bids. The worst has been the implication that Qatar is in cahoots with the Spanish-Portuguese delegation; a you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours situation that has FIFA seriously digging into whether there were improprieties. Just as one bid cannot disparage another, so too can bids from the respective cycles not reciprocally flatter one another in hopes of drawing the votes from each other’s region to both.
The problem is, though, that while the first and second of these three scenarios could have happened just as easily in a year where just one World Cup was up for bidding, the third is a situation wholly created by the erroneous decision of FIFA to lump the two cycles together. If you don’t want collusion, you don’t present the opportunity for collusion. If the opportunity is there, as we’ve seen in every sport at the athlete level concerning PEDs, it is going to be taken by someone. Just like humans, some nations are more scrupulous than others. And whether the Iberian-Qatari link is confirmed or debunked, the fact remains that FIFA is under fire precisely because it chose to make narrow-minded decisions that had far-reaching negative results.
Sepp Blatter missed a golden opportunity to make things right. Especially switching to a new bidding system this year, the extra four years would have given the other two continents who are absent from the 2022 bidding process the time to possibly put together a bid. (Egypt? New Zealand?) It would also have eliminated any possibility of collusion in this cycle’s bidding, as the four European candidates have proven a propensity for backstabbing so far in this process. Sure, canceling the 2022 vote would have put those candidates who already had put together their bid at a disadvantage, but none of the five nations are hurting enough that they wouldn’t have come right back in four years with revamped proposals that were even better than before.
It’s great to see Blatter take the step whereby he recognizes his flaws. Now was as good a time as any to remedy the gaffe, but instead Blatter procrastinates yet again and leaves his sport at risk of skepticism in the process.
This article was originally posted in shorter format in Bigalke’s daily “A Penny’s Worth” blog in the Sports Nickel forum. Be sure to follow it daily for all the news and insight sweeping through the cerebral vortex of Zach’s mind and the most up-to-date status on where a Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America’s focus is at the moment!
FIFA puts credibility at risk with December’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup vote is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust
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