[MY VIEW] The announcement that it was Qatar 2022 was quickly followed by emails from family and friends. Forget "Why Qatar?" No, it was "Where is Qatar?" The
former British protectorate, located next to Saudi Arabia on the Qatari peninsula and smaller in size than the state of Connecticut, was known for pearling in the Persian Gulf until the discovery of
oil and later natural gas. Qatar's natural gas reserves have made it richer beyond belief. It has more money than it knows what to do with. It can buy pretty much anything that it wants. The USA and
the three other contenders in the 2022 race never had a chance.
Qatar 2022 will be a legacy World Cup. It will be the first World Cup in the Middle East. It is a legitimate story, eloquently told by the Sheikha Mozah herself in Wednesday's final presentation, more powerful the "great soccer story," as Sunil Gulati tells it, that is American soccer the last 25 years.
But Qatar 2022 is so far out -- 12 years -- and so many of the FIFA executive committee members will not be around that questions about whether it will work were immaterial. Like how to really deal with the heat in summer. It is basically illegal to work outside in midday during the Qatari summer. Some folks disconnect their outside cold water tanks during the summer because the water is too hot. Mohamed Bin Hammam, the Qatari president of the Asian soccer confederation, admitted the AFC will hold the 2011 Asian Cup in the less convenient (soccer-wise) month of January than June, FIFA's other international tournament window, because it is too hot in June.
Qatar's sheikhs give generously of their billions to charitable foundations. The Qatari government launched Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab media giant that broke the news of the pronouncement of Sheikh Mohamed, the chairman of the Qatar 2022 bid committee -- "We have won" -- an hour before Sepp Blatter pulled the name Qatar out of the envelope at the Messe Zurich.
Qatar plans on making Doha an international hub for Qatar Airways. The 2022 bidders did, after all, bill Qatar as accessible to 2 billion people within four hours by air. And Qatar has moved from camel racing to international sports. Like the Asian Cup. Like the Asian Games. Like track & field, tennis and soccer.
Stars such as Gabriel Batistuta and Pep Guardiola finished their careers in Qatar and were paid handsomely as endorsers of Qatar 2022. You can do a lot when you have a marketing budget of $157 million. Qatar had the 2022 World Cup won long before the executive committee convened in Zurich. The Sheikha would have never come to Zurich if the outcome was in doubt. Should the USA have seen the Qatar threat coming? Gulati says Qatar was a formidable competitor with an aggressive campaign, and the U.S. bidders knew all about Qatar from the U.S. government.
No one will ever know where all the money Qatar 2022 spent went, but it looks bad. So bad that in light of reports of collusion and stories of corruption surrounding this and previous bid committees, Qatar and Spain-Portugal could never be allowed to win. In saying he'd stay away from Zurich, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bizarre attack on the "unscrupulous" tactics of Russia's opponents seemed to indicate he was throwing in the towel, or at least that what the English media thought. Now it seems like the words of a politician who was told he had won -- Russia won easily with 13 votes to seven for Spain-Portugal and two for Belgium-Netherlands in the second round after England, poor England, went out in the first round -- and was told to emphasize that at least one competitor was above the fray.
One of the great incidents of the 2018/22 bid campaign was Spaniard Angel Maria Villar's note to Bin Hammam when FIFA dropped its collusion case against Qatar and Spain. "Congratulations, vamos a ganar," Villar wrote. "Congratulations, we are going to win," American Chuck Blazer translated for Bin Hammam. The last laugh was on Villar.
The great line of the bid campaign was from Villar's countryman, Miguel Angel Lopez. When asked a few weeks out how the vote looked, he responded, "All the fish is sold." It doesn't sound so funny now.