3 December ~ It’s impossible for any country to become a World Cup host without demeaning itself. Perhaps that’s true of any election – the more votes you need, the more you need to appeal to constituencies with different, and perhaps contradictory, interests. But it should be much less true of a World Cup bid, in which there are only 24 votes up for grabs (give or take one or two unfortunate disqualifications) and in theory everyone’s interests are the same: to stage a successful tournament.
Most criteria can be assessed objectively: the quality of stadiums, security, transport and hotels; the strength of political support; the potential for making money; the state of each country’s football development. Only a few qualities are somewhat intangible: how a World Cup might feel outside the stadiums; how its host or the region might benefit after the tournament; how it might further FIFA’s long-term goals (however they are defined).
The stench surrounding the 2018/2022 process was notable only for the fact that specific allegations of corruption were made before the vote. Everyone believes this is how FIFA’s business is always run, it’s just the names and the details that are new. But even allowing for that, two aspects of this week’s vote are troubling – one serious, one apparently trivial.
The first is that a bid as manifestly inadequate as Qatar’s was able to succeed. FIFA has made itself a laughing stock in choosing a country with such a tiny population, almost no stadiums, totally unsuitable climate and all but no football tradition. The other 2022 bidders spent years trying to persuade executive committee members not to vote for it. If FIFA seriously wanted to clean up the process, it could start by eliminating bids that are clearly technically inadequate – much as the IOC has done with the Olympics. Similarly it should rule that no country can stage the tournament twice within a certain number of years – perhaps 20. That would have saved Japan and Korea a lot of worthless effort.
If that sounds like special pleading for Australia’s 2022 bid, perish the thought. It had good claims, but the need to propose several huge oval stadiums that are alien to the needs of football deservedly ruled it out. (Though of course it seems unlikely the decision hinged on such a practical issue.) What’s more, Australia were, as usual, gross offenders in the second farcical aspect of the vote – the carefully crafted appeal to millions of people who had no influence on its outcome.
It’s hard to know what you should put in a 30-minute multimedia presentation shown the day before the vote, and equally hard to know why FIFA demands such tripe. At that stage, what could possibly persuade one of the 22 voters who has spent several years in careful deliberation? Tricky as it may be, I feel sure the answer is not an animated kangaroo bounding around “iconic” tourist destinations with a “stolen” World Cup. Nor is likely that the virtual presence of Mark Webber, Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett or Ian Thorpe would swing the decision. If it did, FIFA has even more problems than we thought. Mike Ticher