In the midst of all the Gold Cup hoopla this past weekend, you might have missed that far away in St. Petersburg, Russia, the preliminary draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup took place on Saturday.
Off The Post didn’t watch it on TV, but apparently, a couple of important things happened. Among them: the USA received a kind draw in the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying; FIFA’s executive committee decreed that Russia will remain host of the tournament despite the recent U.S. FIFA indictments and Swiss-led investigation into the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; and Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President Sepp Blatter resumed their amazingly fitting bromance.
Since my colleague Paul Kennedy has already taken us through the ins and outs of the USA’s Group C draw here, we’ll start with the ratifying of Russia as 2018 host by FIFA’s ExCo committee.
According to Reuters, the decision by the heads of soccer’s world governing body to keep the World Cup in Russia cannot (most likely) now be reversed. "Even if there were any irregularities in the voting, and none have ever been proved or are likely to be, the only body that can take the World Cup away from Russia is FIFA's Executive Committee," a senior FIFA insider told the global news agency on Monday. "I think we can finally put that idea to bed," he added.
Indeed, this particular FIFA insider speaks the truth: no voting irregularities were found in the bidding for the 2018 World Cup and none are expected to be found, either. After all, this is Russia, a magical and mysterious land where anything and everything can suddenly disappear. Whether it’s important documents, computers, politicians, journalists -- even whole company valuations have been known to vanish into thin air without notice, process or witnesses.
Funny, then, that the computers used by Russia’s World Cup bidding committee are gone, too. Even FIFA’s own head judge, Hans Joachim-Eckert -- the man who former FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia famously accused of screwing up (or with) his report into the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes -- was miffed by the total and utter lack of evidence supplied by Team Russia when Garcia asked the bidding committee to submit all of its documentation.
But where did the computers go? According to Alexey Sorokin, head of Russia 2018 organizing committee: “We rented the equipment, we had to give it back, then it went back -- we don’t even know where it went – to some sports schools, so quite naturally other people used it.” He goes on to say that because a whopping four years have now gone by, some documents (read: virtually all) were, naturally, lost -- you know, stuff the government no longer needed, or whatever.
In the age of Big Data -- that is, at a time when more data is collected, kept and interpreted every X number of days than had ever previously been collected, kept, and recorded since the beginning of human history -- doesn’t that answer sound just a tad … let’s see: dismissive/reckless/unacceptable?
Nope, not to FIFA.
Meanwhile, since birds of a feather flock together, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Blatter and Putin have forged this beautiful friendship. At Saturday’s preliminary draw -- which, by the way was held at Putin’s personal home in St. Petersburg -- Blatter opened with, "Thank you, President Putin, you make us happy and comfortable.” What he didn’t say is that, at the moment, the FIFA President is afraid of traveling to just about anywhere else right now.
Then, a few days after the draw, Putin gave an interview to Swiss TV in which he says that his friend deserves a Nobel Prize for his contributions to soccer.
What a poignant thing for him to say: as it turns out, Blatter has long coveted a Nobel Peace Prize for FIFA on behalf of world soccer. Too bad that that’s unlikely to happen for him now that the Nobel Peace Center has terminated its partnership with FIFA due to the recent U.S. and Swiss-led indictments.
But then again, that’s what the very best friends are for: to help you hold onto your dreams at any cost—especially when those dreams have no basis in reality.
Actually, if OTP recalls correctly, his therapist once had a word for those kinds of people: enablers.