Will the Big Nations Take the World Cup Away from FIFA?

By Paul Gardner

The idea -- somewhat strange at first, admittedly -- of an air-conditioned World Cup held in a tiny little Middle East country which, you can be sure of this, most people would have difficulty locating with any certainty, begins to sink in. I mean ... Qatar?

Like it or not, that’s what the world is going to get in 2022. Instead of the super-organized and thoroughly businesslike trouble-free World Cup that the Americans would have undoubtedly organized.

You can tell, from the stories that continue to surface about corruption and the overall media response among what I’ll call the soccer powers -- meaning Italy, Spain, Germany, England and France -- that the idea of Qatar has not gone over particularly well.

I see someone in the German press dubbed FIFA’s decision a Qatarstrophe, which is pretty good. President Barack Obama eschewed humor and contented himself with a curt opinion that it was “the wrong decision.” It was not the only “wrong decision” that FIFA made last week -- there was also its choice of Russia, rather than England, as the host country for the 2018 tournament. Prince William -- the “heir to the throne” as the British media keep labeling him in almost hushed tones -- continued the decades-long knack of his family for making everything sound boring, by announcing that he was “extremely disappointed.”

There was a more fiery reaction from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who has reportedly canceled an offer of free luxury hotel accommodation to FIFA executives at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Take that, Sepp Blatter!

So the whole business is a mess. FIFA’s prestige has been damaged -- probably irreversibly -- by the revelations of corruption and possible vote-trading during the bidding process. In fact, the revelations should definitely result in a change of operating procedure.

As things stand at the moment, the enormous value of the World Cup -- both in monetary and prestige terms -- makes the decision of where to stage it simply too massively heavy a responsibility for the small number of 20-plus FIFA executive committee members to cope with. The vote, in fact, seems almost designed to produce the very problems that have surfaced.

FIFA is -- on the face of it -- a pretty democratic organization. More so than the United Nations, as it happens. The UN -- and the League of Nations before it -- would never have got off the ground had they adopted the totally democratic ideal that all of its members’ votes are equal. That is the system that FIFA professes. In its full Congress, the vote of Vanuatu has the same power as that of Germany or Argentina.

The UN can say the same -- but the UN has another level of power, the Security Council, limited to the world’s superpowers, and those guys have the power of veto over general assembly decisions that they don’t like.

Without that veto power, does anyone believe that the USA would have joined the UN? We have grown used to that setup as, somehow, the natural way. However you look at it, there’s no escaping that it is not particularly democratic, but is simply a reflection of power -- economic and military.

So when the FIFA ExCo -- a small bunch of guys from places like Thailand, Cyprus, Trinidad & Tobago, Cameroon and Egypt -- starts ordering England and the USA around, it’s not surprising that cries of Foul Play! are heard.

But the protests, of course, go deeper than that. They go to the root of the democratic system. It would be much more to the liking of the powerful soccer countries if they could assume control, and arrange matters among themselves. They would, occasionally, grant favors -- and maybe a World Cup or two -- to the lesser tribes, but no way would they allow themselves to lose face by being put through the rigmarole of an elaborate and expensive bidding system -- only to be humiliated at the finishing line by ... well, you know who.

So the questions to be asked are not whether Qatar or Russia can do it -- of course they can, or whether they engaged in unsavory activities to ensure voting support -- who knows?, but (a) can the FIFA voting system be reworked to make it more transparent and less whimsical, and (b) if that is impossible, then what is the alternative?

The answer to (a) seems to me to be quite clearly, No. Any improvements to the current system would have to involve a reduction in the importance of the executive committee members -- maybe even their complete withdrawal from the process. And how likely is that when it is precisely those members who would have to approve the changes?

Which gets us to (b) and the thought that if FIFA cannot be modified, then it will have to be bypassed. We have had an example of this sort of thing, quite recently, in English soccer. The setting up of the immensely successful English Premier League in 1992 was precisely a power-play by the major English clubs that were tired of having to be part of the much larger Football Association, having to obey decisions made by the voting power of over 70 much smaller clubs and -- you can imagine the importance of this factor -- having to share television income among so many clubs.

If as few as half a dozen -- but it would probably need twice that many -- of the world’s top soccer nations told FIFA to go to hell, that they were defecting to form their own super-FIFA, and would run their own World Cup, FIFA would find that its very lucrative cash-cow, the World Cup, was suddenly not worth all that much.

In reality, all that would be needed would probably be simply the threat of such a revolution. The threat of a walkout by Europe’s top club teams very quickly led to UEFA altering the structure of the Champions League ... to favor the top clubs, of course.

At the moment, FIFA is trying -- and has been succeeding -- in getting the best of both worlds. It has been operating as a major international business corporation with a multi-billion dollar turnover. And it also functions as a charity organization that distributes millions of dollars to promote soccer in poor countries. These are not naturally allied roles. FIFA is well aware of that, and its guilt at making so much money is evident in its insistence, during the recent bidding process, that the bidders demonstrate some sort of “legacy” that their staging of the World Cup would entail.

This has been for some time a particular emphasis of FIFA President Sepp Blatter's -- part of his personal, quest, it is believed, for a Nobel Prize. But to anyone who listened to the bid presentations, the legacy aspects had an unreal, even hollow air to them. To imagine that Qatar’s offer to dismantle its special air-conditioned stadiums and donate them to poorer countries could possibly be a deciding factor is to realize how far the bidding process has come off the rails.

FIFA is in serious need of reformation. But a shakeup of the size required will not, cannot, come from within. It will need external pressure -- probably in the form of a breakaway threat from the rich guys.

19 comments about "Will the Big Nations Take the World Cup Away from FIFA?".
  1. Soccer Bloke, December 7, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.

    USA and England should sic the CIA and MI6 on exposing FIFA corruption :)

    Or, Maybe, it will all show up on Wikileaks?

  2. Brian Herbert, December 7, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

    We Americans have always had a fondness for secession and wars of independence, so count me in! We also have shown a great ability to commercialize sport, the NBA, NHL, NFL, and Major League Baseball come to mind. So why don't we host a worldwide national team soccer tournament every odd year (to avoid Olympic/EUFA conflicts)? We can initially open it up to the first 32 countries to pledge a commitment to our tournament. Applicant nations must pledge that they will prioritize our Cup over FIFA's World Cup if a conflict arises. Fans will get a safe, affordable and enjoyable tournament, and unlike the Qatar tournament, the whole thing will be carbon-neutral ("green").

  3. Jon van Woerden, December 7, 2010 at 10:17 a.m.

    Where is Martin Luther, when we need him?

  4. Theodore Eison, December 7, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

    It would be great if you offered one point of view instead of two conflicting politically correct points of view. "But the protests, of course, go deeper than that. They go to the root of the democratic system." "FIFA is in serious need of reformation. But a shakeup of the size required will not, cannot, come from within. It will need external pressure -- probably in the form of a breakaway threat from the rich guys." You don't seem to make up your mind whether you're a capitalist or socialist, in favor of democracy or communism -- only that you don't like all 4 of these entities.

  5. Thomas Hosier, December 7, 2010 at 5:41 p.m.

    I say yesterday is not soon enough to bail out on FIFA .... it is time to start having the World Cup every two years. England 2012; Brazil 2014, and USA 2016.

    Enough already ... FIFA must go! Screw the politics.

  6. Brian Herbert, December 7, 2010 at 6:37 p.m.

    The latest I saw from FIFA's head office, "It's a political decision to open up onto the world. It was the same thing with (2010) hosts South Africa," said Valcke. I am OK with that direction, but only if it is agreed and stated UPFRONT that the sites will be awarded to new locations - you don't pretend it is an even-keel competitive bid situation and have all this money spent on bids, and then tell people afterward.

  7. Kathy Splifford, December 7, 2010 at 9:18 p.m.

    Bail out of the World Cup? You guys need to relax. Seriously. You are lucky the U.S. is even permitted to play in the World Cup as they play Nations 1/100th their size during qualification. The World Cup is and should be the WORLD Cup.
    It is not the U.S. Cup. We hosted VERY recently, so we had our chance. There are so many other countries that deserve their chance ahead of the U.S. We are simply sore losers, acting like the pouting "popular" girl who somehow lost the contest for prom queen to the "nerd". The World Cup has never been in the middle east so that region is long overdue. They also say they will donate the stadiums to poor nations after the tournament. It will be greener than anything the U.S. has ever done by using solar power. To revolt and protest the World Cup, which is by far the greatest and most watched sporting event on earth, is shameful at best. If you haven't enjoyed the World Cup recently, then you are either lying or you yourself should get of the game of football/soccer entirely! Americans too often feel entitled to top consideration for everything. Brian, you are quite naive and your suggestion on pulling out of the World Cup and inviting others to do so, would not create a better tournament. It would collapse the tournament of hopes and dreams of nations around the world simply to participate in. What laws of the game will they follow? In your delusional hallucination tournament, maybe you could have all the players on the field use their hands whenever they want??? You want America to host this nightmare as well? America, the country that makes fun of soccer? America the country whose largest sports networks and television personalities make fun of the game? America the country whose television and news coverage of the sport is almost non-existent? The country in which ESPN chose to show the SPELLING BEE finals instead of the Champions League semifinal a few years back? To get rid of the politics in Soccer, you would need to first start with The USA, whose National team and its system is ENTIRELY POLITICAL! Get a clue and leave the World Cup alone. It ain't broke and surely an American need not attempt to fix it. Back Away American, you and your country are no authority on anything related to football.

  8. Kathy Splifford, December 7, 2010 at 9:30 p.m.

    P.S. The World Cup, like the Olympics is a money loser for the hosting nation.

    The South African World Cup cost 6 BILLION to produce, and gained 500 million in revenue.

    That equals a 5.5 BILLION dollar LOSS for the host nation.

    Do you really think the U.S. needs to lose another $5.5 billion toward their all time record deficit?

  9. jordao jordao, December 7, 2010 at 10:18 p.m.

    Kathy Splifford: you ROCK! I was so grinding my teeth on this. Your assessment is Correct and Awesomely put. Thanks!!

  10. jordao jordao, December 7, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.

    Paul, Theodore Eison said it right (in this blog). You have been "limping on two different opinions" as God said to the Israelites. Get your thoughts straight, man.

  11. Ron Crowley, December 8, 2010 at 8:46 a.m.

    If you are absolutely sure that Qatar cannot stage a perfectly entertaining World Cup raise your hand . . . or stop whining. Paul Gardner? I see your hand is up? You know because you've actually visited the future. I see.

  12. Normand Conquest, December 8, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.

    Kathy, the United States is the exception to the rule. The infrastructure is in place and very little needs to be built to host a world cup. There are many cities with very large stadiums with close by universities with training grounds for the national teams to use. There are ample hotels. Do not forget that the 1994 WC was the best attended and a very profitable world cup. The Olympics are a totally different event where the games are not spread out over the entire country so there are few places where there would not be added expense for little used facilities (LA is one of the few places where the Olympics will make money).

  13. Normand Conquest, December 8, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.

    PS: Sometimes gifts are not truly gifts. Donating excess stadiums to poor countries is not a gift (that is unless Qatar plans on financing the maintenance of the stadium as well) nor is it "green." The US proposal is greener because there are no need to build a single stadium. That being said, I have no doubt that Qatar will pull off a great World Cup, it is just that the legacy thing is a cruel joke if the receiving country cannot maintain the gift stadium.

  14. Brian Something, December 8, 2010 at 10:33 a.m.

    Paul, the WC bidding process is not quite as democratic as you make it out. Democratic would be all 200-ish members of FIFA voting on the process. In fact, I think that might be a better way to go as it's a lot harder and more expensive to buy 100 votes than 12.

  15. Brian Herbert, December 8, 2010 at 10:39 a.m.

    I did enjoy some of Kathy's rant on my suggestion, some of it was quite humorous! However, if her intent is to stifle simple dialogue on the state of affairs at FIFA, I think it is misguided - there IS a need to expose the process to scrutiny, and if FIFA just puts up a smokescreen we should debate the options. I am not arguing FOR U.S. control, I am just opposed to any monopoly power that refuses to allow for proper checks and balances and clear identification of the criteria before countries spend gobs of money on bids. Hey, I have the same complaint with our defense dept. bidding process, doesn't mean I am unpatriotic, so I find the whole "ugly american" thing inappropriate: you know nothing about me - I've coached teams with kids who were born in Asia, Central America, the Middle East, as well as native kids of all colors, and I love that aspect of our sport.

  16. Karl Ortmertl, December 11, 2010 at 11:17 p.m.

    A correction on the South African losses. It cost 6 billion Rand and took in $550 million dollars, which equates to about 450 billion Rand. It's still a big loss, about 200 million dollars, but the infrastructure built with that money will pay off for decades to come - overall it will have worked out quite well financially.

  17. Karl Ortmertl, December 11, 2010 at 11:25 p.m.

    I like the fact that Qatar was selected. If it's the World Cup, then the world needs to be able to participate at least somewhat equally. The idea that only Europeans or Americans are worthy of hosting the event is bogus. Also, the World Cup should be held at the time of year most beneficial to that country. The South Africa World Cup was held in the dead of winter. The event would have been much more successful if it were held in January-February, summer in South Africa. The Qatar World Cup should also be held in January-February, the dead of winter. You can't do anything outdoors in the summer there. A bit more acceptance of the rest of the world and a bit less western arrogance is definitely in order here.

  18. James Harris, December 18, 2010 at 10:31 p.m.

    Dear Kathy--What about the "guest workers" who will
    have to be paid to build the Qatar stadiums in the miserable heat. Will they get a shot at tickets? No, they won't get tickets because they will be deported back to the Philippines and other countries from where they came. Here's another one for Kathy: who will dismantle the "green" stadiums and then who will reconstruct them in needy countries, say like Minneapolis? And why are they so "green"?

    And I didn't see you answer about why Russia won the WC. Are you speaking "green" again? You omitted Putin's "love of Legionnaires."

    Finally, who will be going to this WC? Not Western fans. Will 80% of the fans be from Saudia Arabia?

  19. Kathy Splifford, December 20, 2010 at 10:33 p.m.

    James- Regarding your questions Qatar's plans for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ include 12 eco-friendly, carbon-neutral stadiums.

    All of the stadiums will harness the power of the suns rays to provide a cool environment for players and fans by converting solar energy into electricity that will then be used to cool both fans and players. When games are not taking place, the solar installations at the stadiums will export energy onto the power grid. During matches, the stadiums will draw energy from the grid. This is the basis for the stadiums’ carbon-neutrality.

    The upper tier of 9 of the stadiums will be removed after the tournament. One, Doha Port Stadium, will be completely modular, and will be deconstructed following the FIFA World Cup™. During the event, the capacity of most stadiums will be between 40,000 and 50,000 fans, with one much larger stadium for hosting the opening and final matches, amongst others. When the tournament ends, the lower tiers of the stadiums will remain in Qatar. Able to accommodate between 20,000 and 25,000 fans, the smaller stadiums will be suitable for football and other sports.

    The upper tiers will be sent to developing nations, which often lack sufficient football infrastructure. We see sending the stadiums to developing nations as an integral part of our bid, as doing so will allow for the further development of football on the global stage. Along with the stadiums, we plan to make the cooling technologies we have developed available to other countries in hot climates, so that they too can host major sporting events.

    Minneapolis is not a country, Russia did not win the World Cup (they are hosting :)no one is complaining about Russia hosting. The complaints are targeted at Qatar. As for attendance, the fans that want to go and that can afford to see the teams in person will be those to attend. Whether or not they will be from the West or Saudi Arabia is irrelevant. Don't be so bitter and go might enjoy the high-tech environment of the stadiums.

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