By Charles Kestenbaum
In light of the ongoing FIFA scandal that has seen the majority of senior-most FIFA executives fired, jailed or banned from the sport, it is time to invalidate the World Cup awards for 2018 and 2022 and restage the process with the kind of transparency such major decisions require.
It is impossible to exaggerate how badly the public’s trust of FIFA has been damaged. The world’s most popular sport has been irrevocably discredited by the systematic, institutional corruption that has influenced virtually every major decision FIFA has made for at least the past 20 years, perhaps much longer.
It may simply be too late to change venue for the 2018 World Cup. An emergency effort to stage the Cup at several European venues could succeed, as there are plenty of stadiums and facilities and the 2016 European Cup showed Europe’s capacity for staging such large scale events. And while nobody believes Russia won their bid “fair and square” their staging of the Sochi Olympics showed their capacity to stage the event in a manner consistent with the high standards World Cup fans have come to expect.
However it is the 2022 World Cup award to Qatar that has so angered soccer fans worldwide. Let’s just outline the facts and circumstances of the Qatar bid and compare it to the losing bid submitted by the USA.
Qatar has less than half a million citizens living in one city. It has had to spend billions of dollars to build suitable stadiums that cannot and will not be used once the month long event is over. Qatar simply does not have enough teams or fans to effectively use so many (8? 12?) stadiums that can seat 30,000, much less the 60,000+ World Cup crowds involve.
What will it do with these stadiums? Disassemble and ship to needy developing nations across Africa? Really? Come on FIFA. That is Not going to happen. Had the Qataris been confident enough to share the event with their neighbors in the UAE for example, the award might have made some sense, as the UAE has stadiums and places to caravan in the desert and beaches and bars and...but no, Qatar arrogantly refused to share the event and demanded an exclusivity that discredited their proposal.
What are all the Dutch “Clockwork Orange” fans going to do between matches? Are the famous Brazilian ladies going to Samba dance through the streets of Doha during the 120 degree 80% humidity summer heat? No, so FIFA has decided to totally upend the entire World Cup program and reschedule it for November or December 2022 while the world’s major leagues are playing their regular season? And was that part of the bidding process that initially found it OK to stage the event in Qatar in the June heat?
So FIFA changes the bid criteria/rules after the award but allows the award to remain? And just as Europe has shown the capacity to mobilize and stage the 2018 World Cup on fairly short notice, so the US just held the Copa America Centennial event with full stadiums and great weather and exceptional experiences for the hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors, who also got to enjoy Disneyworld, Manhattan, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Niagara Falls and...you get the picture.
If FIFA is serious about doing the right thing and restoring some sense of accountability to their programs, they must quickly move to right the wrongs that have done. They must punish those (Sepp Blatter, Chuck Blazer, Jack Warner...) who have corrupted the system. FIFA must reward those who played clean and straight. Anything less will result in further discredit to FIFA, failure to restore respect for the integrity of the game and more damage to the world’s most popular sport.
Charles Kestenbaum is a former US diplomat and journalist. He has experienced soccer around the world, from playing varsity in the American University in Cairo to coaching girls’ varsity in Abu Dhabi’s American Community School. Charles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views in this commentary are those of the author rather than the blog. The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer welcomes discussion and multiple perspectives