In a stunning pair of decisions Thursday, FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, rejected far stronger bids from England and the U.S. and instead selected Russia and Qatar to be the host countries for the men's World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
The announcement, made in Switzerland by Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA’s president, came after almost two years of sometimes acrimonious competition among the nine nations seeking one or the other of the tournaments.
“We go to new lands,” Blatter said of the twin decisions.
Russia fended off rival England, as well as joint bids by Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium to win the 2018 vote. The vote tallies were not immediately available, but Russia was said to have clinched the honor on only the second round of voting.
“You will never regret [the decision]; let us make history together,” Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, told those gathered at the Zurich Messezentrum.
“The World Cup will help us overcome all the tragic days and tragic history of the last century we have suffered.”
Russia, which also will stage the 2014 Winter Olympics, will have to spend billions of dollars on upgrading its infrastructure, including the building of 13 stadiums in the projected host cities.
Although Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, opted not to be in Zurich, the country’s case was well made by the likes of Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of English Premier League soccer team Chelsea, and by Russia’s standout player, Arsenal midfielder Andrei Arshavin.
Staging the World Cup in Russia, Arshavin said, “would open up new minds and new hearts for the game.”
The sheer size of the country and the difficulty of getting around it had been seen as acting against Russia’s bid, but FIFA’s 22 executive committee members chose instead to cast “a legacy vote,” believing the World Cup could help boost the country while at the same time expanding soccer’s footprint.
The same was true for Qatar, and it was odd that immediately after giving the 2018 tournament to one of the world’s largest countries, FIFA turned around and awarded the following World Cup to one of the smallest.
Qatar is no larger than Connecticut and has a population of barely 1.6 million. The 2022 tournament would be played largely in and around the main city of Doha, and in summer temperatures that regularly soar to 105 degrees and above.
Still, FIFA saw the positives in giving the Middle East the World Cup for the first time, again in the hope that doing so might help engineer social change in the region.
“Thank you for believing in change,” Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, Qatar’s ruler, told the FIFA delegates in Zurich.
Qatar fended off a much stronger bid by the U.S., which had promised record crowds and record profits for FIFA if the World Cup returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1994.
The U.S. bid was a high-power, high-profile affair, with former President Clinton heading up the team that made the final pitch to the executive committee on Wednesday.
In the end, though, the promise of a well organized, financially profitable World Cup in a country boasting ethnic diversity did not sway the FIFA voters.
Also beaten by Qatar in the voting were Australia, Japan and South Korea. Again, the exact vote totals were not immediately available.
England, which according to some reports was eliminated in the first round of voting for 2018, had also sent a trio of celebrities to plead its cause. They included Prince William, the heir to the throne, David Cameron, the prime minister, and Galaxy midfielder David Beckham.
But even a trio that England’s Guardian newspaper dubbed “the prince, the prime minister and the peacock” could not deliver the votes from a FIFA executive committee soured by English media allegations of bribery and corruption within FIFA ranks.
-- Grahame L. Jones
Photo: Qatar wins the bid for the 2022 World Cup. Credit: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images