What next? A World Cup in Iceland?

By Paul Gardner

One of the oldest of the many idiocies that infest soccer is the one that says that if you work hard and everyone likes you, you should always be rewarded with the prize.

There’s this World Cup business, for a start. It does not seem right to both England and the USA that they had a totally committed bunch of people who slaved night and day to produce great bids -- and then ended up with nothing. My sympathy to both bid committees -- but not too much sympathy. Anyone who enters a competitive bidding process knows damn well, right from the start, that there’s a strong chance they will end up empty-handed. I assume they accept that risk.

So, despite England and the USA being all around good guys who worked hard and honestly at their task, I see no great reason for maudlin concern when it didn’t work out.

Congratulations to Russia. And congratulations, only less so, to Qatar. As it happens, though I believe the USA must quickly put the defeat behind it, I do think that it has cause to feel aggrieved. There is a huge difference between awarding the World Cup to Russia, and awarding it to Qatar. Russia has long been among the top soccer nations in the world. It has staged many important soccer events; its national team has won (as the USSR) Olympic titles and Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, and a European Championship, its clubs have won European titles, its players have won European player of the year awards.

Russia/USSR, then, has a strong tradition of involvement at the center of soccer activities. And Qatar? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Never won anything, never produced a top player or a top club, never staged a FIFA tournament. It has a national team that is currently ranked 113th in the world. By FIFA.

You can then, make out a case that Russia has contributed enough to the world game to deserve its chance to stage the World Cup. By the same measure, it is abundantly clear that giving the World Cup to Qatar is a monster joke.

And so it would be ... except that we are now asked to consider another factor: FIFA’s desire to spread the boundaries of the already worldwide sport, to take the World Cup to an area where it has never before been: the Middle East.

“What is wrong with that?” asks an embattled-sounding Sepp Blatter, who has now to defend the vote of his executive committee. Not too much. As an aim that attempts to link up the Middle East have-nots with the (mostly) European haves, it is a splendid idea -- though I think a lot of us might have considerable trouble trying to line up Qatar as a have-not nation.

But there is a problem, nonetheless. If seeking to take the World Cup to hitherto unexplored areas is to be one of the criteria by which the merits of the bids are assessed, then that fact has to be made clear before things begin -- I do not mean before the voting begins, I mean before the business of preparing a bid begins.

Particularly because this is a very special criterion. All the other factors -- stadiums, hotels and so on -- can be worked on, can be built or improved. But being, or not being, new soccer territory is a hard fact, something that cannot be altered. Had the USA known beforehand that exploring new countries was to be a specific advantage for a bidder (never mind, as it apparently turned out, the specific advantage) can there be any doubt that the USA would have considered it plain dumb to enter a process where the fact that it had already staged a very successful World Cup (in 1994), far from being the advantage it was assumed to be, was suddenly transformed into a huge and inescapable negative?

The same reasoning applies to Japan and South Korea, though not to Australia. What happened to Australia, in fact, makes a mockery of what I have just outlined. Because Australia, as much virgin World Cup territory as Qatar, managed to get only one vote.

Leaving one to wonder, with solid reason, whether all the talk about new frontiers has any truth at all to it. If going somewhere new was the over-riding factor in this voting, then surely the voting should have been a struggle between Qatar and Australia? A confrontation that never came close to happening.

So -- why Qatar? Blatter has not been helping to create understanding with his seriously divisive remarks suggesting envy and hostility on the part of Christian countries toward the Islamic Middle East.

It seems pretty clear by now that Blatter is finding it difficult to mount a strong argument for the Qatar vote. He is not convincing because he is failing to address the main concern of the critics -- namely that Qatar’s lavish spending during the bid process was the key ingredient.

That seems likely. It does not have to be illegal spending. There are plenty of ways of spreading largesse around that are all above board. And, let’s face it, with Qatar’s bid totally lacking in any soccer merit, with huge questions being asked about the summer heat, money was not simply the main plank of Qatar’s bid, it was the only plank the Qataris had.

Until, that is, we learned -- after the voting -- that 14 of FIFA’s voters had voted in a pioneering spirit. A spirit that made any consideration of the technical merits of the USA’s bid irrelevant. Forget all about the stadiums, the hotels, the transport, the security, the structural efficiency, the enthusiastic sponsors, in short forget about most of the stuff that FIFA itself demands -- in great detail, often with government guarantees -- of any bid document.

When voting time comes around for 2026, the criteria will need to be much more clearly defined. If exploring new venues is by then enshrined among the criteria, and if China decides to enter the bidding, why would any other nation even bother?

The obvious way to avoid the problem is to revert to the continental rotation system that FIFA once had in place, but decided to abandon. Had that system still been in operation, bidding for the 2022 World Cup would have been limited to Concacaf nations, and the USA would probably have been the only candidate.

None of what I’ve written above says that Qatar cannot stage a great World Cup, though the suggestions that it might share some games with neighboring countries (a Blatterism, that one) or play the tournament in the European winter, suggest that not everyone is convinced that Qatar is a suitable venue.

But the fact remains that the goal posts were massively shifted during the voting process for 2022. For all Blatter’s protestations about honesty and transparency, that is no way to organize a crucial vote. The way is open for a 2026 World Cup final in Reykjavik -- once Iceland discovers that it possesses untold natural gas riches.

14 comments about "What next? A World Cup in Iceland?".
  1. Tom Symonds, December 14, 2010 at 1:46 p.m.

    Denmark needs to be a co-host with Iceland, Paul. That way we can have groups based in the Faroes (a constituent country of Denmark) and, most tantalizing, groups based in Greenland (another constituent country of Denmark). Wow, I can see Argentina being headquartered in Søndre Strømfjord (Kangerlussuaq)!!!!!! Imagine the overwhelming support for the USA in Thule, what with the base there and all. Ice and bikini babes - yeah! And of course, we still have the Faroes for matches, although I don't we'd see Scotland fancying playing there ("Faroes 1 Fairies 1" comes to mind). Oh well, looking forward to supporting your efforts to get FIFA to expand into the frozen North. Hey, with a never-setting sun in the summertime, we could have a Lionel Ritchie World Cup - "All Night Long". Cheers.

  2. Carl Walther, December 14, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    One thing that 'Slather Blather' has accomplished, is moving up the ladder to being the most hated man in sports.

  3. Robert Kiernan, December 14, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.

    Well somehow I'd guess that playing a match in Reykjavik in July would be far easier to play and certainly enjoy rather than doing the same in Doha at the same point in the calendar. But clearly this Qatari decision is crazy, if Blatter was serious about having the Cup expand into the middle east, well it seems that say Egypt, which has been a contender regionally for years and actually has tourist attractions other than a man made mall with imported goods or maybe Saudi Arabia might have had a shot...but unlike say Jordan with Petra, or say seeing the Pyramids or the Sphinx...Qatar really has NOTHING to offer besides whatever the games manage to do themselves... and if the games are to be held in the desert, it stands to reason that trying to play them in the two hottest months of the year MUST trump the idea of doing this in the middle of Summer, but there is certainly no way that the European leagues for whom most of the worlds top players make their living would go alone with a World Cup during their prime season...and Blatter knows this so there is no way that the Cup gets moved to say just will never happen. ... Australia must be seen as the true emerging market to be exploited, and has a real right to feel aggrieved by all this talk of opening things up...they have a league and a history of qualifying... what has Qatar done EVER? Even if there is no real terrorism at this event, the fear alone is going to keep people from coming and that is where this all breaks down. The television rating will be high no matter where the games are held, but this so clearly is a broken peace sign to all those potential advertisers that expect there to be FANS at the matches, and that is where I expect Sepp and his merry men may just find themselves undercut later by these very same people when they try to get them to sign up to do some other FIFA shindig... remember how Mexico wound up with the Games the second time, Colombia DIDN'T stage the event, and I'd not be that surprised if something similar happens down the road with this one too.

  4. Gak Foodsource, December 14, 2010 at 6:34 p.m.

    I would vote for Bolivia/Peru after Iceland. . The world will have its first World Cup above 2,000 meters and every game can be played in the Andes Mountains. FIFA can put on a show for the Gods!

  5. Kathy Splifford, December 14, 2010 at 10:22 p.m.

    Since when do true football players complain about weather conditions? Everyone is very consumed by the money, the venue, the quality of football the host nation plays etc. It is the WORLD CUP and needs to be played in different parts of the WORLD. Maybe the cup is the boost the region needs to better develop players. Qatar promised air conditioned stadiums but who cares? I have seen the game played in snow and ice, rain and mud, in perfect conditions, and in blazing heat(Please see USA hosted World Cup in 1994. If its hot, it's hot.

  6. jordao jordao, December 14, 2010 at 11:35 p.m.

    "...bidding for the 2022 World Cup would have been limited to Concacaf (sic) nations, and the USA would probably have been the only candidate."
    You highlight how silly the US is to have gone ahead and bid, thinking they might have a chance, after having already hosted just 4 world cups ago?
    Should have known better.
    It is not the 'World Series', it's the World sport - Middle East included, and it appears our country thinks it deserves everything whenever it wants, because it is the center of the Universe. ... gawd.
    Digressing... Trying to hog the World's première event is pretty presumptuous.
    Good for Qatar.

  7. jordao jordao, December 14, 2010 at 11:37 p.m.

    Egypt is in Africa, Robert...

  8. jordao jordao, December 14, 2010 at 11:40 p.m.

    Kathy... apparently you have not been to Qatar in June or July...

  9. jordao jordao, December 14, 2010 at 11:41 p.m.

    Carl, "Slather" is mainly hated by poor losers ...

  10. Mikaton Mikaton, December 15, 2010 at 2:24 a.m.

    It's interesting as I read a lot of backlash from the US and English media who hardly know anything about the game and other sore losers who are still crying about not winning the rights to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. I respect Paul Gardner and the rest of the Soccer America team, for their extensive coverage, knowledge about the game, within and outside the US and beyond and their in-depth analysis of the game from a broader perspective. I cannot say that for others, who pretend they know something about the game and are pissed off at FIFA for giving Qatar the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

    I totally disagree with Paul Gardner's take on why FIFA awarded the WC to Qatar and instead it has been one form of insinuation or the other. A lot of reporters have been writing all the crap about FIFA and Qatar and they haven't been very honest about this whole issue and instead are busy making things up every day to justify, how the US lost to Qatar. It's seems memories are very short when FIFA made the same bold decision in 1988, when they awarded the World Cup to the USA, which was hosted in 1994. I remember the media reaction especially from England and others, who criticized the move to bring the WC to the states, and vowed it wouldn't be a successful one. FIFA, just like now, took a lot of heat from around the world for taking the game to a place where soccer is not that popular. I guess we all saw how wrong they were in the end with the number of fans who showed up, the exciting games we all watched and many more that made WC'94 a grand success.

    It's been sixteen years since the WC came here and it's still been talked about as the most successful WC in history. What has happened since then? Where are the legacies of that tournament, which can point to and take away from? It can't be only about just ticket sales, TV Rights, how many cans of coke or hot dogs were sold, but the achievements that took place in 1994 on and off the field.

    I believe a lot of the reporters and sports journalists, taking swipes at FIFA and Qatar are not asking the right questions on what US Soccer has achieved since WC'94? Are they too afraid to speak the truth or they are just been naive knowing they can repeat the same lies over and over to a populace that may not know the real truth.

  11. Mikaton Mikaton, December 15, 2010 at 2:41 a.m.

    All this amounts to excuses and excuses. England, US and other bidding countries knew the rules and process before the bidding process started. This is nothing more than sour grapes. Qatar did everything to give their bid an international appeal it needed to get it's message across.

  12. Brian Herbert, December 15, 2010 at 7:56 a.m.

    Paul, very well put. It's interesting how the mob yelling "sore loser" never seem to address a specific point about the process, instead just throw insults and deal in generalities. Your point about Australia was a good one: If the USA was kicked out in the first round and Australia had votes that were at least competitive with Qatar I would see more credibility in Blatter's arguments.

  13. Gak Foodsource, December 17, 2010 at 12:55 a.m.

    We didn't have anti-homosexuality laws in 1994. We weren't bordering the most dangerous regimes in the world. All whining and ignorant US fans aside, Mikaton, comparing the risk of the US hosting in 1994 with that of Qatar in 2022 is well off the mark. And I'll get back to you on FIFA's "rules" when the WC is in winter in 2022. At that point they will indeed have changed the rules. I support the Qatar bid only because I agree with Blatter that soccer can break down walls. Peace is a much more worthy goal than the footballing destiny of any country. In that respect I don't think any of us really care what US soccer has achieved or what Qatari soccer could achieve.

  14. Kathy Splifford, December 20, 2010 at 10:13 p.m.

    jordao, neither have you

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