Sport Sub-Editor, Alastair Ferrans has his say on the FIFA World Cup vote
As you will no doubt be aware from various news sources and outraged Facebook statuses, Russia and Qatar have been selected by the FIFA Executive Commitee to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups respectively. To a ‘non-football observer’, it may be difficult to understand why such a decision has sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world.
On first impression, it may appear a sound and reasonable verdict, with FIFA taking football to new territories, with these being the first World Cups in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, thus giving these nations an opportunity to benefit from the economic and social gains which come with hosting the world’s most watched sporting event.
However, in the aftermath of the surprise announcement from FIFA President Sepp Blatter, notions of corruption and greed have dominated the headlines of the world press, most blatantly from those of the defeated nations: “The power of gas and oil,”(El Mundo) and “What a fix” (Daily Mail).
Tales of a conspiracy theory run rife. Starting with allegations of collusion between teams bidding for 2018 and 2022, it has now been claimed that President Blatter spoke to members of the Executive Committee minutes before voting regarding the “evil of the media”, almost a direct reference to The Sunday Times and BBC’s “Panorama”, screened just three days before the vote was taken, both testifying corruption within the heart of the organisation and having a lot to with the suspension of two officials who were set to partake in the voting.
Whilst I personally agree with the conspiracy theorists that FIFA is a backward and corrupt organisation, I would argue that their decision – whilst not taken for the correct reasons – is one which will be forever viewed as a defining moment in football’s history.
Qatar will be the fourth time in a row the World Cup has been held in a developing nation, with South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018), representing the continued capacity of the sport to reach far beyond the pitch and into the social sphere.
South Africa, despite the tournament’s flaws, demonstrated how football continues to be a sport with the potential to unify the world by redefining the global perception of the continent. Russia and Qatar now have the opportunity to do the same for their own regions.
Football must prevail in Asia, and what better way to ensure it does so than offering it the chance to prove the doubters wrong and help the world overcome its vast cultural differences. In the world’s most sensitive region, football truly has the potential, however minor it may be, towards establishing peace.
Despite the potential heat problems for players, spectators and staff of operating in 46 degree Centigrade heat, plans have been made to counter this, with revolutionary air conditioned stadiums. Qatar is blessed with several geographical advantages which make it a more appealing destination than it is often given credit for. Just a one hour flight from core Middle Eastern areas, and quickly becoming a travel hub for the world, football will be brought to a whole new demographic.
Its focus on tackling the harsh heat through technological innovation may also have a long-term benefit: helping football to prosper in challenging climates across the globe.
As for Russia, the country’s sheer size and the manner in which it evolved under Soviet rule means it is certainly in drastic need of modernisation. The World Cup offers the nation the opportunity to become a popular tourist destination as well as a football, rather than nuclear-based, superpower.
For years the requirement for visitors to obtain visas has discouraged countless numbers of potential tourists to Russia as well as the lack of quality accommodation and low quality transportation system. With the proposals to scrap visas for visiting fans in 2018 and upgrade all these aspects of Russian society and more, the nation has an opportunity like never before to rebrand a cold-war, Soviet-tainted, world image.
If Beckham & Co. had boarded the ‘back the bid’ branded BA plane with a smile, FIFA would undoubtedly have been criticised for ‘playing it safe’, and missing the opportunity to provide the opportunities I have already outlined.
Considering that in the next ten years, the United Kingdom is set to host the Olympics (London 2012), the Rugby League World Cup (England & Wales 2013), the Commonwealth Games (Glasgow 2014), the Rugby Union World Cup (England and possibly Wales 2015) and the Cricket World Cup (England & Wales 2019), England can’t feel too hard done by, with a clean sweep of the major sporting events perhaps just too much to wish for.
England 2018 and USA 2022 would have been ‘more of the same’, whereas Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 introduce the beautiful game to a whole new culture, with knock on consequences far beyond the pitch and nations themselves. After all, it is the element of surprise that makes football… football!
As an aside, disheartened England fans can also take comfort from the Saint’s very own predicting ferret, which assured us they weren’t going to win anyway.