FIFA Has Spoken. So Be It. USA Must Move On

By Paul Gardner
Of course Sunil Gulati is correct to indicate that politics - FIFA politics - are the key to understanding the voting that gave the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 version to Qatar - and left the USA out in the cold.

That being the case, one can say with absolute certainty that no one will ever understand the voting of the FIFA executive committee. A jumble of 24 (or fewer, allowing for suspensions) individuals with who knows how many preferences and prejudices and whims and aversions.

One thing for sure - Thursday was not a good day for the English-speaking soccer countries: Australia 1 vote, England 2 votes, and the USA soundly beaten by Qatar. Is there any significance to that language factor? Again - who knows? There might be. While English is the legally official language of FIFA, it is evidently not the language that holds sway in the FIFA corridors of power.

It has been pretty clear for some time now that the English have not been particularly good at making friends on the international soccer circuit (clear to everyone except the English, that is). They spent a fortune - over £15 million - and collected just two votes (and one of that pair was from the English ExCo member Geoff Thompson). This was pretty exactly a re-run of what they did in 2000, when a $15 million bid process also resulted in only two votes.

Nothing has changed there, then - for the English, not even the ridiculous wheeling out of Prince William helped - a demonstration of obnoxious royal snobbery that may actually have had a negative effect (in which case it got what it deserved).

One might say the same for former president Bill Clinton’s involvement in the U.S. bid. His boring speech was not one of the highlights of the U.S. presentation.

But it is evidently the accepted wisdom that trundling the big names forward is what is required. Not soccer names, of course, but really big names from politics or showbiz.

Well, that didn’t work, obviously. David Beckham did better than any of them. I have not been a great fan of Beckham’s, but his genuine personality, his soccer sincerity, his just plain down-to-earth regular-guy qualities made him a hugely welcome presence. But FIFA politics didn’t pay any attention to him, either.

Nor were they impressed with Gulati’s meticulously presented catalogue of the financial benefits of an American World Cup. One can pause to wonder about that. Do the Americans also suffer -- like the English -- from simply being too strong, a situation that antagonizes less fortunate nations? Of course they do. Beware of Americans bearing gifts probably sums up that attitude quite well.

So, if FIFA politics was not interested in money (can that be right?), or politics, or royalty, what the hell was it interested in?  Simply in doing something different?  In taking the World Cup where it had never been before?

Possibly that is the truth of the matter. And that’s not at all an unworthy aim. We can pause at that point, to lodge an objection - one that once again completely clouds any attempt to understand how this voting worked. OK, Russia (representing Eastern Europe) and Qatar (representing the Middle East) are new frontiers for the World Cup -- but they also happen to be the two big spenders among the bidders. That is particularly true of Qatar. Hence the accusation that, in the end, money was all that mattered -- and that Qatar has “bought” the World Cup.

It has. Not in the sense that it has bribed voters, for we have no reason to doubt the validity of the voting. But Qatar has proved (rather as South Korea did when it money-muscled its way into a share-agreement with Japan for the 2002 tournament) that spending lavishly on the bid process can be made to pay off.

Is there anything reprehensible about “buying” a World Cup? Not that I can see -- and anyway, even if there were, the ultra-capitalist USA should be last country to complain about it.

I must point out that, as far the details of the Qatar bid go, we’ve been here before. The Qataris have, at the moment, just three stadiums. Their bid says they will build nine new stadiums. Back in 1988, during another bidding vote, Sepp Blatter (who was then FIFA’s general secretary) explained why a bid from Morocco had not succeeded ... because, he said, it was all on paper, the Moroccans “presented only two stadiums, beyond that only plans ... the World Cup is not a development program.” Ironically, the country that won that bidding vote was the USA.

But now the World Cup is a development program. With Qatar doing the developing, building stadiums (none of them exactly huge -- they all seem to have a maximum capacity of 45,000) for which the country will have little use once the World Cup is over. Hence Qatar’s remarkable suggestion that it can ship the stadiums off to poorer countries (which means almost anywhere) where the super technology would be of great help. Fanciful?  I suppose so, but it might not seem that way in 2022.

Come to that, no one knows what will be happening, either technologically or politically, in 2022. Not even this strange abstraction “FIFA politics” can guarantee anything. But to condemn the FIFA decision on that basis makes no sense. The vote, so far as we can see, was an honest vote, if a rather difficult one to understand.

The USA tried its best -- just as England did -- and lost. For the mighty USA to have been beaten, or worse to have been out-spent, by tiny Qatar may prove difficult for some to digest. But the reasons for the USA’s loss had little to do with the merits of its bid, which I have no reason to doubt, was an excellent one.

The USA lost, I fear, for two reasons that are easy to identify, but impossible to define. It lost because it is the USA -- a fact that automatically engenders hostility among some who resent its power; and it lost because it is not Qatar, because it is not in the Middle East, because it represents nothing new. Qatar does mean new challenges -- the same challenges that Morocco wanted take up in 1988. Morocco was scorned, but Qatar got its timing right.

Well, maybe there is a third reason, one that the USA should be able to understand -- it was out-spent and maybe even out-maneuvered on the PR front. But I do not believe there could have been success for Qatar without those first two unchangeable facts.

All of which is clever post facto thinking. Obviously, if the USA had realized all of that beforehand, it would not have bothered to submit a bid.

Did FIFA get this one right? Who knows. In fact, the matter of being either right or wrong will only be decided after 2022. For the USA there should be no recriminations and no accusations. U.S. Soccer must resist the temptation to subside into a great sulk. The soccer show will go on. It must do.
17 comments about "FIFA Has Spoken. So Be It. USA Must Move On".
  1. jordao jordao, December 2, 2010 at 10:25 p.m.

    Once again, Paul, you sound like you have complex about being 'English', 'Anglo' or 'white' or 'American - per se'. unfortunate.
    You say:
    "what the hell was it [FIFA] interested in? Simply in doing something different? In taking the World Cup where it had never been before?"
    Yes, duh. The World Cup is more nobly dealt off to new hosts - ones that have been spurned in the past - and hosts that can afford it.
    you say:
    "Well, maybe there is a third reason, one that the USA should be able to understand -- it was out-spent and maybe even out-maneuvered on the PR front."
    Paul, as you know as a columnist for SoccerAmerica, ... USA is not interested enough in football - hopefully just 'yet'. Sorry. pffft.

  2. Tom Symonds, December 2, 2010 at 10:51 p.m.

    I suspect between now and 2022 we will be seeing quite a number of U-16 Brazilian players and their families relocating to great jobs and big houses in the Persian Gulf and becoming citizens of Qatar. Seeing as how Qatar is ranked 113th in the world and will get automatic qualification into the WC Finals, I'm sure the Sheikh who runs the country will not want the national team to be embarassed. Yes, I expect to see a lot of one-named, Portuguese-speaking 'Qataris' on the team as they open up the WC...I wonder if they will change their kits from maroon and white to yellow and blue? I hear the muezzins in Qatar are now learning the chant "it's like watching Brazil."

  3. Martin Hague, December 3, 2010 at 1:40 a.m.

    I would say 'bollocks'. Qatar is the Man City of world football. It's like asking Chipping Sodbury to host the FA cup.

  4. Carlos Thys, December 3, 2010 at 3:45 a.m.

    Paul, this is all about money. And you know it. You're old but not so daft between the ears just yet....or? Corruption is the name of the game and has been in Russia long before the Revolution of 1917. The difference is that Western oil companies showed the Ruskies how to extract that oil post-1990 and now they can "roll" anyone. Ditto for the sheiks (Why do you think AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Inter, Real, Chelsea, etc. all make sure to now "winter" at some point in the Gulf states each year? Hint: It has nothing to do with superior training conditions or superior test-match opportunities.) When there are 11 votes (Half of the 22 dunderheads present!) in Round 1 of the balloting for Qatar, well, time to have your V-8 Moment, Paul! (And you did. For some reason you want to feign ignorance.) So, let's review. There are 2 reasons that the USA, Aussie, and England bids failed: 1) Money/bribes/corruption AND 2) Money/bribes/corruption You say that Morocco got its timing wrong? (It was 2d place to South Africa for World Cup 2010) And Qatar got its timing right? Ha! Qatar got the money right. Not hard to do when everyone knows who you have to "take care of." (just 22-24 folks, that's all) Either provide integrity in your writing or retire, old man.

  5. Brian Herbert, December 3, 2010 at 4:23 a.m.

    "we have no reason to doubt the validity of the voting" -- wrong, we have many reasons, based on journalist sting operations, logic, and the most important reason: the absurd mysteriousness and secrecy surrounding the votes of each official and lack of voting criteria from the organization (FIFA). As for Tom S.'s comments -- I agree, it will be as absurd as the building of horse tracks in Abu Dhabi, Oil wealth warps economic equations to the point where a world that is concerned with global warming just says, "what global warming? Here in Sheikh ____'s Qatar Stadium, we've got cold air blowing and ice in our drinks." The ONLY valid point you make in this piece Paul is how far out the decision is - 12 years to me seems completely absurd. They should announce the 8-year-in-the-future site during a current year's WC, and never decide a 12 year site - primarily because the politics of the decision and the bribery temptations increase when no one has to face the music until 12 years later.

  6. Carlos Thys, December 3, 2010 at 4:50 a.m.

    Next time talk about something meaningful to football fans: Safety when travelling abroad (in the manner and with the budget a football fan and his mates or family would have). Or are you a 4-5 star hotel guy now? Can't be bothered with what the "little man" has to deal with, eh? Try viewing various sources on the overall safety of travel within the Russian Federation. Guess where Putin's land ranks? 8th or 9th worst in the world presently. Just behind Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan. I bet those fat FIFA men in suits were thinking about that, eh?

  7. Robert Monnat, December 3, 2010 at 6:58 a.m.

    I hate to capitulate on this. The US bid had so many positives to offer FIFA, the only challenge being the need to wait for the financial benefits to be realized/earned by actually staging the event. In the case of Russia and Qatar, I can't help but default to the commonly held belief that FIFA heeded to the immediate financial benefit of what they "wheeled into the room", as compared to what the US carted in (Clinton) as well as England (Beckham). After S. Africa staging, this can only be taken for what it is - a tremendous step backwards for the international game.

  8. Carl Walther, December 3, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    Once again FIFA has picked a city to host the World Cup that the average soccer fan cannot afford to travel to. (The African stands were "stuffed" with free tickets to avoid those watching on television seeing empty stands.) I guess fans actually going to the World Cup isn't important to FIFA since they get paid to go.

  9. Robert Hill, December 3, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.

    Please wake up and smell the coffee.
    Thus us all about money. Money now and money in the next 12 years and there isn't any better money than oil money.
    To be cynical....
    maybe a few spot shortages in the oncoming years and we will be paying for WC in Qatar at the pumps.

  10. dan woerner, December 3, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.

    the only part I agree with Paul is that it is time to move on!

  11. Carlos Thys, December 4, 2010 at 2:46 a.m.

    No, it is not "time to move on." Move on to what? More FIFA corruption in the months and years to come? There is no written law that binds our nation or athletes to any world sporting body. When incompetence, personal greed, and corruption carry the day with these decisions for Russia and Qatar, it is high time to move to "Something Else." I am interested in seeing the top football nations of the world duke it out in a meaningful tournament that crowns the truly best. South Africa 2010 did not offer us this. Goodness, where to start....Let's start with why France was there. Thierry Henry's handball in Paris against Ireland was as blatant as it gets. France did not deserve to be in South Africa; it would have been better for them had they not been present (it would have saved tremendous embarrassment in the matches versus South Africa and Mexico) FIFA had a glorious moment to force "Fair Play" to triumph yet it did nothing. I watched live FIFA's selection of Mexico for 1986 with kickoffs at 12 noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. That was insanity in the scalding June conditions. FIFA repeated the insanity when we used Orlando, Dallas, and RFK in Washington, D.C. in 1994 -- same inane kickoff times for the pampered Eurozone TV viewers convenience. What did we get? Incredibly subpar sporting performances. Every tournament there are "laugher" participants like North Korea in 2010. What...a World Cup is supposed to feature warm-up matches? Intelligent design could offer a far more superior end-product footballing tournament. This has not been the case with the men's FIFA World Cup for decades --- better locales that enhance the playablity of the game AND better quality finals participants. Doesn’t anyone question the immediate use of knock-out once we’re down to the final 16? Time for the USSF (we carry plenty of global weight) to lead other world soccer bodies in a joyous mutiny. Russia is unsafe for man & mouse, let alone its own inhabitants. And we shouldn't support dictatorships. Qatar is unplayable ground with nothing cultural to offer for out-of-stadia experiences. And most of us, as readers here, will not be able to afford the luxury of being steamed like a lobster in Qatar in June 2022. Not to mention that world women's rights groups out to be lambasting FIFA for choosing a land that denies basic rights like women's suffrage. Mia Hamm? Are you going to speak up? Time to show global leadership, USSF. Lead the mutiny.

  12. Jeffrey Kantor, December 4, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    I have taken my entire family to the last 5 World Cups. Whether 2022 in Qatar will be a success or not, I will not be going.

  13. Joe Shoulders, December 4, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.

    I happen to agree that FIFA wanted to branch out to new frontiers for it's World Cup. Makes sense to me. I dont doubt for a second that FIFA is a corrupt organization. But im also not a big of the "We Got Screwed!!" mentality that has become all too comfortable of a cry for many Americans. It's time to move on. Congrats to Russia and Qatar.

  14. James Froehlich, December 5, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    Maybe this could open up US Soccer's busy agenda and allow them the time to actually look at trying to improve the quality of player and coach development. Nah !! Why would they want to waste their time on something so mundane -- much more important to play political games where you can pretend to be important and hob-nob with movie stars and past presidents. FIFA's corrupt and always has been -- let's get back to our "knitting" !

  15. Brian Something, December 5, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

    "...we have no reason to doubt the validity of the voting..."

    Correction: we have no concrete EVIDENCE about the validity of the voting.

    The BBC has given us plenty of reasons to wonder...

  16. Rick Figueiredo, December 6, 2010 at 1:17 p.m.

    The USA received the 1994 World Cup as a gift. It was in the world's football interest at that time.

    As for 2022, I think if President Obama had been truly a "football fan" and not just president and sports fan, it would have made a better impact. It was nice that he said something but it was also a little "french vanilla." Plus he would have had to show up at the voting to make the full impact. I did not find President Clinton's speech boring. He is actually a "soccer" fan. Please note that every U.S. speaker called it "FOOTBALL" not "soccer," Thank God!

    This one for 2022 was a lot tougher to come by and my intuition told me Qatar would get the Cup. Why? Not so complicated. The power and influence of having a lot of money to pull it off from ALL fronts. They are very smart the organizers from Qatar. It is though in the final analysis, fine. It will be an interesting World Cup. Definitely no economic potential problems will exist and the country will have a chance to spread its wings. That is good for peace. World peace, that is.

    The U.S. perhaps never had a real chance. I do think they approached it in the best way possible: Exploit financial gains; show that the USA World Cup is for all the people of the world since most of the crowd would have been the PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. Landon Donovan there? No! Bad move. He is a prime example that from 300 million we get only one Landon Donovan in the world arena. Sad. Why only one LD? I am still working over that one.

    The USA will maybe get 2026. England has to wait 50 years cause they cried like babies after they lost.

    Sunil Gulati is an intelligent man. He knows the nuances of the political game. . .

    Rick Figueiredo

  17. Kent James, December 7, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.

    I don't have a problem with FIFA trying to expand the influence of soccer in the world, and using the World Cup to do so (heck, we were beneficiaries of such thinking!). And I understand the desire to bring the WC to the Middle East, but Qatar?? 1.7 million people (and they get an automatic birth??). Then the cynic in me realized FIFA's thinking. Having the WC in Qatar allows you to have it in the Arab world, in a country with very few Arabs (and the Arabs there are have such high incomes, FIFA won't have to worry about potential unrest, etc).

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