Welcome to Paranoia Time over you-know-what: the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. In summer. Or early winter. Or late winter. Or spring. Or autumn. Or not in Qatar. All depends not only on perspective but hemisphere.
No sooner had FIFA confirmed that the timing will be discussed – a long way down the agenda – at next week’s meeting of the executive committee – than a blog appeared on the American Fox TV website demanding that the finals be moved elsewhere.
Coincidence? Surely not.
Fox insisted that the comment column was not driven from the front office but no ‘independent view’ label appeared on the article.
The cry was duly taken up with delight by, among others, old critics of the Qatar award; also by new critics allied to the over-our-dead-body stance of the English Premier League.
Also joining the fray are political and social commentators who have suddenly discovered that, sadly, construction workers are killed in site accidents during major development projects (As they were in Beijing before the 2006 Olympics and in South Africa before the 2010 World Cup and as they have been in Brazil ahead of the sporting extravaganzas of 2014 and 2016).
Theo Zwanziger, exco member and entrenched opponent of the World Cup in Qatar, also seized on the issue to suggest that FIFA’s ethics committee should become involved.
Quite how workers’ rights fall within the ambit of Messrs Garcia and Eckert is not clear from the statutes. Still, within 48 hours Garcia was apparently planning to leap on a plane and fly around the world talking to all the 2018 and 2022 bidders (except, maybe, the Russians since he is barred from entering the country as a legacy of his activities as a New York Attorney).
It’s not as if FIFA has some high-flown equivalent of the Olympic Charter (which the IOC, in practical terms, is sidestepping anyway over Russia’s anti-gay legislation).
The traditional concept that sport provides an opening for an exchange of ideas and cultures and understandings appeared to have been not merely thrown out of the window but rocketed off into space.
How did the game end up in this sandy cul-de-sac?
The genesis of doom was the decision to adopt a rotation system so that South Africa would be awarded the 2010 finals after missing out by one vote on 2006.
That rotation system skewed the 2014 finals to South America and Brazil was the only federation – then under the awful Ricardo Teixeira – to present a bid. If bidding had been open surely a better option (England? United States? Spain?) would have been chosen.
At least Qatar had to present a coherent bid for 2022 and fight off opposition from other contenders (Four in the end but also most of the 2018 bidders as well in the early stages).
Brazil, for many reasons reviewed elsewhere, may be deemed the greater scandal.
The second, equally disastrous, decision was to run bidding for 2018 and 2022 simultaneously. The exco was responsible for that at its meeting in Tokyo in December 2007.
Long after the dust of scandal had begun to settle over the finals awards so Chuck Blazer, then FIFA’s marketing and TV chairman, expressed satisfaction that the decision had been justified by the commercial outcome.
That ‘commercial outcome’ included the millions to which Fox signed up. Hence the wheel has come full circle.
Half of the exco members who voted for simultaneous bidding and then for Russia (don’t forget 2018) and Qatar have gone, mostly in disgrace. But, like past governments of ill-repute or incompetence or venality, that does not invalidate the decisions.
The game must confront the legacy and, as David Gill sagely observed in measured tones contrasting starkly with much of the hysteria, find a compromise.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has referred to political influences. Of course. Bidders for the World Cup have to present government guarantees and that demands local, political commitment and taxpayers’ cash. It also demands political involvement within FIFA (as with the reported Spain/Qatar voting pact). No crime in either sphere.
Incidentally, note that Blatter was the leader of FIFA who presided over each one of those decisions above.
He may run for a fifth term in 2015. If he does he may find Michel Platini – arch proponent of the winter wonderland – forsaking the UEFA presidency to run against him. By then, for better or worse or somewhere inbetween, the game will have left the 2022 timing wrangle behind it.
So who may then find himself rewarded with a shove by congress into the dustbin of FIFA history: the man who presided over the saga . . . or the man who stirred it all up?