Perhaps the clue was in the faces of the England bidding team as they sat down to hear the announcement of the vote. David Dein and Prince William sat impassively, both carrying the thousand yard stare of men that already knew their fates. It wasn’t so much the fact that England lost the vote that shocked, but the margin of the defeat. Just two votes in the first round of voting, one from Geoff Thompson and the other reportedly from Issa Hayatou, put them in last place. It was rumoured that, before the vote, Sepp Blatter reminded some executive committee members about “certain media” and “recent media coverage”, and it has also been pointed out in several different places that the two countries from the nine that bidded with the worst records on freedom of press were the two that FIFA chose. If the former is true (and we already know that the latter is), what does this say about FIFA’s priorities?
This may, of course, be a complete coincidence and all manner of wacky conspiracy theories will probably be put forward over the decision to give the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar over the next few days. The two separate votes, however, should be taken in isolation of each other if we are to make much sense of them. For 2018, the Russian bid had a lot to commend of it, not least of which was the fact that one of the biggest countries in the world had never hosted a major tournament. Was Englands vote a punishment for being a country with a press that have the temerity to ask difficult questions? BBC-bashing quarters of the media should probably consider this question before launching into attacks on the corporation, but it seems unlikely that this will happen. Those of the opinion that David Cameron’s Conservative Party is seeking to consolidate the control of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky may also have cause to take a close interest in how the government reacts to the loss of the bid. It seems, however, surely that, from the scale of the English defeat, that the decision to broadcast the Panorama programme in itself was not the deciding factor in the decision to award the 2018 World Cup finals elsewhere.
The other vote, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. Qatar is a country of 1,700,000 people, of which 1,450,000 live in the two major cities, Doha and Al Rayyan. Around a third of the population is made up of contractors and their families and are not even citizens of Qatar. As such, there is no opportunity to leave a World Cup legacy in Qatar, because there is practically no-one there to leave it for, and this may be part of the reason why the stadia are to be dismantled after the competition and given to other countries in the world. The average temperature there in June and July falls between forty-one and forty-six degrees celsius, but we are told not to worry because the stadia will be air-conditioned. FIFA’s commitment to the environment seems, on the basis of this, to be more or less non-existant. Issues concerning freedom of the press are real, not imagined, and the country’s laws regarding homosexual behaviour are little short of medieval.
The genie of corruption within FIFA, however, is now out of the bottle, and to put this down to sour English grapes would be misleading. England failed almost as dismally to get the 2006 World Cup finals as they did today, yet the talk of FIFA corruption then reached nowhere near the levels that it has over the last few days. An acrid stench hangs heavy over this process, and it is right that this be investigated further. Perhaps we have merely been judging it wrong all along in discussing FIFA as if it is a democracy. It isn’t. FIFA is a fiefdom. It represents 208 nations, but only the 23 members of the Executive Committee got to vote on their most important single decision. There will be no public statement on the reasons why one bid was chosen above the other, only platitudes. We already know this from the words and actions of the likes of Jack Warner, who treat anyone that questions their authority with absolute contempt, safe in the knowledge that they cannot be ejected from their positions.
None of this excuses those that entered into this process on behalf of England and failed so dismally, though. Those concerned knew how grubby the process was when they got involved with it and they got involved with it anyway. The always implied justification for the near-ruinously expensive building of the Wembley Stadium was that it would one day host a World Cup final, while the academy complex at Burton-on-Trent was mothballed and the number of qualified coaches in the country plummeted. That World Cup final seems less likely that ever now, and probably not in our lifetimes. Any hint of criticism of FIFA from those within the England bidding team over the next few days or weeks will be no more than hypocrisy in excelsis. They knew what they were getting involved with when they signed up for it. Hell, one of them is on the Executive Committee itself. Yet, for the money that they spent, they could only persuade one other member of the FIFA Executive Committee to the merits of their case. With one party corrupt and the other incompetent, the irony is that, in some ways, FIFA and the England bidding committee deserve each other.
For the rest of us… well, at least there will be no World Cup football in Milton Keynes.
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