December 3, 2010

Losers left fuming by FIFA politics

Posted by Andrew Orsatti on 03/12/2010

FIFA chose Russia and Qatar © Getty Images

The surprise was not seeing Russia awarded the 2018 FIFA World Cup, nor the naming of Qatar to host in 2022. It was those bids that finished bottom of the pile that really jumped out at me in Zurich.

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England finished last in the race for 2018 with a mere two votes, bowing out in the first round. To see one of the early favourites, “the motherland” of football as FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in his opening address, fail so spectacularly was perhaps a message to all who have the audacity to threaten FIFA.

There is no way of proving that England was made to suffer after a string of stories in the British media during the build-up aimed at exposing an alleged culture of corruption within the world governing body.

Not that Issa Hayatou seemed to mind. Various sources claim he voted for England. Mr Hayatou was named in a BBC Panorama investigation, which aired just three days before the vote, accusing him and other FIFA Executive Committee members of accepting bribes in years gone by.

England did not have a divine right to stage the World Cup, but the 1966 hosts deserved far more than two out of a possible 22 votes, surely.

The mail on Spain-Portugal was spot on, collecting seven votes in both the first and second rounds.

Russia quietly went about its business. The country’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided to stay away. No need to interfere. The deal was obviously done long ago. Russia scored a resounding second round victory with 13 votes, followed by Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands.

Another delegation left scratching its head is that of Australia. Much like England, it seemed to have gained considerable momentum, if you believed the hype. The bookmakers even had Australia fighting neck and neck with Qatar and the United States for 2022.

When the official result came through, I was close to a number of Australian bid officials who were being interviewed at the time. A reporter having just received an email from FIFA confirmed that Australia had received a paltry one vote and was eliminated in the first round.

One member of the delegation insisted on seeing the e-mail for himself. The look on his face left me absolutely in no doubt - the Australians felt duped. Welcome to politics.

Enough had been said in FIFA’s own evaluation report about the prospect of a World Cup in Australia making less money than some of its rivals. I do admire FIFA for being up front in putting profit on a pedestal. At least FIFA is being honest.

The selection of Qatar emphasises the point. Nobody could compete with its polished bid in financial terms. Truck loads of money bought Qatar a presence on the international stage and FIFA lapped it up.

Mindful of how its image has been damaged in recent times, FIFA softened its stance by announcing how the World Cup votes, lodged in a secret ballot, fell into place, in exquisite detail, round by round.
This was contrary to what they had previously planned. It was a small gesture to try and bring an air of transparency to a potentially hostile situation.

You only need to pick up the morning papers in England to understand how FIFA is being perceived in the wake of this announcement. Not that I pay too much attention to tabloid sensationalism.
US President Barack Obama chimed in on Qatar, saying it was the wrong choice for 2022. I guess there are seven losing bids out there, some with an axe to grind.

As a journalist who has been covering major FIFA events for some 15 years, I must say I really enjoyed the wonderfully slick media centre. A variety of cuisine and well stacked bar all compliments of FIFA.

All of it went down very nicely. It's a pity FIFA politics gave me indigestion.


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