For the first time in its 92-year history, the football World Cup, which opens today in Qatar, will kick off in November. It will be the first time the tournament will be held in winter, interrupting all the major national leagues for one month. The World Cup final, normally held some time between the end of June and mid-July will be held one week before Christmas Day, because it was impossible to stage the tournament in Qatar in the summer.
This alone should have disqualified Qatar as a possible venue for the World Cup, even though there were plenty of other compelling arguments against FIFA, the world football governing body, choosing it. Qatar is no football country, it had no footballing tradition, it did not have suitable stadiums, it did not have the hotels for the teams and it has a population of less than three million. Even the report drafted by FIFA, which evaluated each country that had applied for staging the 2022 World Cup, was negative about Qatar.
So why had the FIFA executive committee voted for Qatar to stage the 2022 tournament? The United States, which had also made a bid for 2022, satisfied all FIFA’s requirements, but the majority of the executive committee members chose the country that did not even have the football stadiums to stage the game’s biggest competition. The recently-released Netflix documentary, FIFA Uncovered, explains that this decision was the result of corrupt dealings involving not just individuals, but also governments.
It was such an indefensible decision it sparked a big investigation of FIFA and the members of its executive committee by the US Department of Justice, as well as countless media reports about the unaccountable and untransparent governing body’s shady dealings. The Department of Justice found that bribes were paid to members of the committee to secure their votes for hosting rights and several ended up in prison. And the US alleged some, including the FIFA vice president, had taken bribes to vote for Russia to host the World Cup in 2018.
FIFA’s reputation is now in tatters, seen as a nest of corruption and graft, run by a self-serving executive committee which showed no respect for World Cup tradition, no respect for the players, no respect for national leagues and no respect for the fans. As for Qatar, which spent big bucks to land the competition and spent billions building new stadiums and hotels, its sport-washing drive – exemplified by the investment of hundreds of millions of euro in French club PSG – might fail.
So far, the staging of the World Cup has attracted only negative publicity for the country. Apart from the bribery allegations, there have been many reports by human rights groups about the bad treatment of foreign workers brought in to build the stadiums (they claim there were several thousand work-related deaths) and the country’s poor human rights record. There could be many more such reports once the tournament begins, which is the last thing Qatar would want after spending billions to host the World Cup.
We hope the actual football is not affected and lives up to the expectations of billions of people who will be tuning in to watch matches, even at the wrong time of year. If it does it will be in spite of FIFA.