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Michael Lewis

December 4, 2010
FIFA gets the blame for 2022

By Michael Lewis

That a country such as Qatar can host the World Cup is incomprehensible, bewildering and embarrassing.

I mean, it has all of 1.7 million people (which is smaller than Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan) and not much of a rich soccer history. The oil-rich and natural gas-rich country has never qualified for a World Cup in one of the weaker confederations (Asia) in the world.

Even FIFA's inspection committee labeled Qatar's operational capabilities for a World Cup as high risk, the only country of the nine venues vying for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to get such a rating. Obviously, the inspection committee's reports did not mean a thing.

Who's to blame? Why FIFA, of course, as its questionable international credibility has been further tainted.

FIFA get the blame because it allowed such a voting process to occur -- 12 years before the tournament -- and for politics that makes what transpires in Washington, D.C. look like kindergarten stuff. If they would have followed continental rotational plan, it would have been CONCACAF's time to host the tournament.

I was never happy -- in fact, confounded about the 2022 host being selected to early. Instead, it turned into a global circus thanks to some FIFA genius who decided it would be great to have not one, but two hosts of the World Cup decided at the same time. Twelve years is a long time until the tournament. The traditional six years in advance would have sufficed.

Besides, having two elections at once promoted vote trading.

As for the bids, well, Qatar's success can be attributed to politics - some FIFA Executive Committee members may have decided on the Asian country because it was a Third World country and against FIFA norm and perhaps some deals or promises that were made behind the scenes -- and money -- Qatar reportedly spent some $157 million on its bid trying to sway the voters.

Talking to many journalists in Zurich, Switzerland earlier this week the day of the vote I said that Qatar's plan was something for the future, but not right now. Some replied, "But when?" So you could imagine how stunned they were about Thursday's announcement.

I had the opportunity to peruse the USA Bid Committee's bid books for several hours in May. The bid was just about picture perfect in substance and style, answering every question in detail posed by FIFA. Yes, the U.S.'s bid did not have the government guarantees. But we all knew that was going to come through.

Say what you want about South Africa prior to the 2010 World Cup, but at least the South Africans reached two World Cups before they hosted the tournament. They had superior talent and could compete internationally. Please, please name me one Qatari footballer who has done anything significant (sorry, naming aging European or South American players who ended their careers in the oil-rich country don't count).

Can't name anyone?

Yeah, I thought so.

By the way, Qatar has never gotten out of the first round of the Asian Cup, which it will host this winter.

So much for having any sort of football/soccer history to stand on.

Then there's the factor of the summer heat, where temperatures have been known to soar to 115 degrees and beyond. Qatari soccer and bid officials said they have a plan in which all stadiums will be air-conditioned to around 80 degrees (heaven help the players and fans if the mechanisms to operate this broke down).

But what about the fans outside the stadiums?

One of the most appealing things about a World Cup is how the visiting fans interact and celebrate the most popular sport on the planet at festivals and in the streets of the host country. But how do you enjoy a tournament when itís hot and humid in oppressive conditions? What do you do? Air-condition the entire country?

As for the host country's legacy, it goes against logic to build stadiums and then tear them down. Yes, the modular parts of the stadium will go to developing soccer countries, but don't you want something remaining in the host country to build upon?

It doesn't make sense. But it could make cents (and probably dollars) for the FIFA Executive Committee.

In many instances, the Executive Committee is made of men who are far detached from society in general and don't realize what the common man thinks, needs or wants.

This time the Executive Committee, well, at least 14 members of it, have gotten it wrong.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter likes to talk about the transparency of the organization. Well, it is about time for him to put his money where his mouth is, and not his foot inside of it.

It is time for these secret votes to become open votes, so the entire world knows who has voted for whom. I would love for the Executive Committee members to explain their votes, but we probably would have to wait until pigs fly for that to happen.

I hope someone took into account that it is very difficult to purchase alcohol in Qatar. Fans have been known to drink a bit before, during and after matches. Qatari hotels can serve it, but what do you do when of your long-time World Cup sponsors is Anheuser-Busch?

And one other thing.

At the MLS Cup on Nov. 21, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that the league would look into the possibility of adopting a schedule that fell in line with the rest of the world. Like it or not, it looked like Garber and the U.S. was pandering to FIFA in the World Cup vote.

Well, look where it got the U.S.

Now, I know Garber is too classy to tell Sepp and his cronies to shove it. But if I was the league, I would not persue changing the schedule. Let MLS drop the idea and keep the traditional spring to autumn schedule.

If FIFA doesn't want to play ball with us, we don't have to play ball with them. Hey, isn't that the message FIFA just sent to the U.S.?

If the U.S. wants to host the 2026 World Cup when the vote comes up in eight years or a decade from now, we will have the opportunity to visit it then.

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