Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


FOUR MORE YEARS OF NON-TRANSPARENCY

Weeks of intrigue, finger-pointing and threats came to an anticlimactic conclusion as Sepp Blatter, running unopposed, was re-elected to a fourth four-year term as FIFA president by a 186-17 vote in Zurich during the world soccer governing body’s 61st Congress.

Blatter’s path was cleared three days earlier when his only challenger, Asian confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam, was suspended from soccer activities in the wake of an accusation by CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer that he had attempted to buy the votes of Caribbean officials at $40,000 apiece. 

The collateral damage included the suspension of CONCACAF president Jack Warner on bribery charges, the firing of Blazer by Warner’s interim successor and his subsequent reinstatement, and the ostracism of the English F.A., whose bid to postpone Blatter’s “coronation” until suitable opposition could be found was soundly quashed, 172-17.  Adding to the turmoil was a call by the head of the German federation, Theo Zwanziger, for a probe into how Bin Hammam’s Qatar defeated the U.S. in December in the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.  [June 1]

Comment:   Don’t look for anything to change over the next four years.  (Also, American dreamers, don’t look for a re-vote on who will host the ’22 World Cup, which the U.S. originally lost, 13-4.)   Blatter, momentarily jostled, is back in the saddle, and there will now be the patching of the cracks, not a razing of the foundation.   One only has to go back to Blatter’s first re-election campaign, which came on the heels of the infamous ISL collaspse, to recall how the FIFA boss, through his rhetoric, managed to drive the word “transparency” into the ground.  Hollow now as it was back then.

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DON’T JUST FOLLOW THE MONEY

Qatar beat out a strong bid by the U.S. to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup while Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament in balloting by the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich. 

With 22 members taking part, 12 votes were needed to win.  The last-place finisher in each round was eliminated.

The 2022 vote: 

First Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 3, South Korea 4, Japan 3, Australia 1.

Second Round — Qater 10, U.S. 5, South Korea 5, Japan 2.

Third Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 6, South Korea 5.

Fourth Round — Qatar 14, U.S. 8. 

The 2018 vote: 

First round — Russia 9, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 4, England 2.

Second Round — Russia 13, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 2.  [December 2]

Comment:  So how did Qatar do it?  How did this nation of 1.7 million people perched on a tiny Persian Gulf peninsula, a country that has never even qualified for a World Cup, win the prize at the expense of the United States, a nation whose bid was the only one among the nine 2018/22 hopefuls to be given a 100 percent score by FIFA?

To many, the immediate answer was, “Follow the petrodollars.”  That, however, may be too easy.  The U.S. bid, after all, promised record broadcast rights fees and ticket revenues from a land that is home to many of FIFA’s  major sponsors.

However, there’s the usual horse trading of votes.  In fact, the trading season might have begun not during the bidders’ presentations in Zurich but back in August, when Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam announced that he would not run for the FIFA presidency in 2011 and instead devote his efforts to ensuring that his native land–Qatar–wins the 2022 World Cup sweepstakes, thus clearing the way for Sepp Blatter to win a fourth four-year term as FIFA supremo next year.  And beyond the horse trading, there was the geopolitical factor. 

Qatar’s bid borders on the fantastic:  Build seven stadiums and enlarge five others and air-condition them to beat July heat that can reach 115 degrees, then dismantle most and reassemble them in needy nations.  That grabbed the attention.   But two emotional appeals at the end of its slick bid presentation the day before the vote were telling.  One young man whose affiliation was listed as Qatar Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told of losing family members in fighting in his native Iraq, then recounted Iraq’s triumph at the 2007 Asian Cup, a feat that united–briefly–that country’s Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.  The point, though a pipe dream, is that a Qatari World Cup could bring together the Middle East.   The emir’s wife, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, then addressed committee members, pointedly, dramatically, asking them, “When?  When will the World Cup come to the Middle East?”

The United States is not loved in the Arab world.  The young Iraqi did not elaborate on the “fighting” that claimed his family members, but most U.S. bid members must have felt their ears burning, at least for a moment.  For Executive Committee members with sympathies toward, or obligations to, the Middle East, Her Highness’ question–“When?”–could be regarded as a firm prod, if not an effective bit of guilt tripping.  And what would be more delicious to those leaning in that direction than to award a World Cup to a Middle Eastern state at the expense of the Western nation that looms menacingly over the region, from Israel to Iraq to Afghanistan?

At the same time, the vote may have been FIFA’s way of putting the U.S. in its place. 

The U.S. bid, on its face, hit all the high notes:  stadiums, infrastructure, profits, experience, diversity, and what could be summed up as “give us the World Cup and we’ll finish what was begun in 1994.”  However, it could be that FIFA likes the United States exactly where it is, a giant who has, in soccer terms, struggled from a prone position to rise up on one knee.  Perhaps that’s the way FIFA wants things for the time being:  a United States that is a cash cow of Coca-Colas and Visas, a credible competitor on the international stage but not a perennial champion, a people whose interest in the game is encouraging but not overwhelming.

No country on earth has the soccer potential of the United States.  If realized, America could very well become the tail that wags the dog (see U.S. television rights, International Olympic Committee).  And what FIFA doesn’t need is another one of its 208 member-nations treating it with disdain.  Like England.

Some notes:

          o  Five of the new stadiums promised by Qatar have been designed by Albert Speer and Partners.  Yes, that Albert Speer–Albert Speer Jr., son of Hitler’s most favored architect and ultimately the Nazis’ munitions minister during World War II. 

          o  Russia’s current place in the FIFA World Rankings–No. 10–is a bit flattering.  That’s six places above four-time world champion Italy.  Qatar’s place–No. 109, one place ahead of Iceland–is not.   

          Qatar has been trying to reach a World Cup since 1978, and despite a string of Brazilian and French coaches it has failed all nine times.  Its greatest international feat remains its loss to West Germany in the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth (U-20) Championship, followed by a fourth-place finish at the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship.  The hardware in the dusty Qatari trophy case:  Winners of the 1992 and 2004 Gulf Cups, both times as host.  Qatar also pocketed runners-up medals at the 1998 Arab Nations Cup, an event it hosted.  In one of its most recent friendlies, the ultra-rich Qatar lost to the desperately poor Haiti, 1-0, in Doha before a throng of 5,000.  According to the FIFA rankings, No. 109 loses to No. 128–at home.  Had the U.S. been eliminated in the first round of its 1994 World Cup, it would have been a horror.  Then South Africa failed to reach the second round of its 2010 World Cup, and FIFA apparently concluded that losing a host nation after three matches doesn’t signal the end of the world.   So it’s on to Qatar.

          Meanwhile, don’t look to the Qatari Stars League–a circuit of 12 first division teams and six in the second–to serve as a springboard to international glory.  Since its launch in 1963, it has won zero honors in Asian club play.  Its most decorated club, at 12 national championships and six second-place finishes, is the aptly named Al-Sadd.

          o  It remains to be seen what Qatar ’22 will do to grow the game in the Middle East.  Soccer is already the region’s passion, so if the event cannot further rachet up the game’s popularity, then FIFA’s aim, surely, is to lift the level of play there.  However . . .

          Arab nations, despite considerable capital investment, have combined to make 20 World Cup appearances dating back to Argentina ’78.  The result is a record of 7-38-15.  Tunisia has crashed in the opening round four times, followed by Algeria, three; Egypt, two; and Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, one each.  Morocco and Saudi Arabia have both qualified four times, and they lead the parade with one second-round appearance apiece, in 1986 and 1994, respectively.

          Because of a reluctance on the part of Westerners to travel to Qatar for the ’22 World Cup, the in-stadium audience for the tournament could very well be overwhelmingly Middle Eastern.  And if so, a wave of passion could see the world’s 109th-best team into the Round of 16, the realm of respectability.  But don’t count on it.



TWO BUMPS ON THE ROAD TO 2022

FIFA has provisionally suspended two Executive Committee members in the wake of an alleged World Cup vote-selling scam.

Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, along with four former Executive Committee members, have been barred from soccer-related activities until a probe by the FIFA ethics committee is completed. 

Adamu and Temarii were caught in a videotaped sting staged by The Sunday Times of London.  Posing as representatives of American corporate interests, the Times team offered to buy Adamu’s World Cup vote.  Adamu requested $800,000 for four artificial-turf soccer fields to be built in Nigeria–paid not to his national soccer federation but directly to him.  Temarii, president of the Oceania Football Confederation, had a slightly higher price tag:  $2.3 million, ostensibly to fund a soccer academy in Auckland, New Zealand.  [October 20]

Comment:  So two more men wearing the FIFA blazer have been found to be, allegedly, corrupt.  They join a long list that includes CONCACAF supremo Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar (World Cup ticket scalping) and FIFA Senior Vice President Julio Grondona of Argentina (TV rights scandals).  Some of this new mud, however, may splatter and soil the U.S. bid for 2022.

It should be noted that the Times‘ sting was executed at a time when the U.S. and England were each bidding for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  If the Times was attempting to scuttle the American bid, it has since become moot with the recent announcements that the U.S. would shoot for 2022 only, the English, ’18.    

Nevertheless, neither Adamu nor Temarii recoiled in shock when presented with the Times’ bribe offers.  That speaks volumes of what the world thinks of what the U.S. is capable of in a high stakes game like the right to host a World Cup, an event in which billions of dollars change hands.  Americans don’t win World Cups, but whenever they play anything, they play to win.  And in the international sports community, the stench from Salt Lake City’s efforts to secure the 2002 Winter Olympic Games still lingers.

Aspersions have been cast.  The efforts of GoUSAbid, based to this point on an overwhelming attack, may now be determined by its ability to hunker down and defend.