Notwithstanding my professional skepticism about the economic benefits of hosting it, I am looking forward to watching a lot of World Cup football over the next month. But I am also beginning to wonder if this might be last World Cup as we know it.
It’s really a miracle that 209 nations agree to a competitive process which crowns a world champion at the end of it. Imagine the members of the UN agreeing to a process that decided which nation on the planet was the most productive or the most democratic.
In the world of sports there has been fragmentation of competition in some sports – e.g. boxing where rival organizations promote “World Champions” – and currently the NHL is proposing to re-establish a World Cup of Hockey which might lead to a withdrawal of NHL employees from Olympic competition.
The Olympics have not suffered a major boycott since the 1980s, but people nowadays often forget how close the Olympics were to disintegration as a global platform for competition.
However one views the allegations of corruption relating to Qatar’s winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, there is no doubt that many will not be satisfied until the event is taken away from them. Since Salt Lake City was not stripped of the winter games in 2002 when corruption in the bidding was uncovered in 1998, there is a risk that stripping Qatar would be seen as double standards.
Blatter has already played the race card, and there is no doubt that many in the “football family” see the press coverage in Britain and the US of the relationship between African and Caribbean football officials and Qatar as reflecting neo-colonial attitudes.
If Qatar is stripped of the World Cup, it might well decide to go ahead with the tournament anyway, and freely offer significant appearance fees to African, Asian and Caribbean federations, which might well tempt them. After all, the FIFA World Cup has only ever been won by European or South American nations and that doesn’t look likely to change soon. What do the other federations have to lose? And as Russia 2018 starts to enter people’s consciousness a campaign to strip Russia could well get underway.
I think the Europeans and South Americans actually need other nations more than they need them. This is the global stage on which they strut- an inter-continental championship would be much less impressive. So I think they need to make concessions to the other federations in order to maintain the status quo.
I think two things need to be done:
(i) The decision to award the World Cup should no longer be in the hands of the Executive Committee of FIFA (24 men) but instead be decided by a vote of all 209 member associations. This would be a more open process less susceptible to corruption (buying enough votes to win would be both expensive and hard to conceal) and would ensure that balance of power lay with the emerging nations – giving them a stake in the organization
(ii) Commit to ensuring that the bulk of the profits from the World Cup go to promoting football in emerging nations. The rich countries need the money far less, and again this will give the majority of FIFA members a vested interest in its survival.
Right now I have the feeling that we are sleep-walking to a break-up which no one wants. The question is, do enough people have a good reason to keep it going?