Could the World Cup Come to the U.S. in 2022?
On Friday, May 29, a defiant Sepp Blatter won re-election as the President of FIFA for the seventeenth year in a row. Just four days later, a defeated Blatter resigned from his throne as arguably the most powerful man in sports. Over the past several weeks, much has been discussed regarding the FBI-backed investigations over alleged corruption within FIFA. On May 26, U.S. authorities indicted 14 people—nine soccer officials and five sports-marketing executives—who now face charges of wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering tied to bids for the World Cup. At the center of the controversy is Jack Warner, head of CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) and former Vice President of FIFA, who is being pinned to a $10 million bribe to ensure his vote for South Africa to claim the 2010 World Cup bid (a bid they eventually won). To date, the charged individuals are accused of accepting more than $150 million in bribes.
Complicating matters, Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee since 2012, has claimed in an interview with a Swiss newspaper that Russia and Qatar could lose the right to host the World Cup if evidence emerges of foul play during the bidding processes. Scala, a man now responsible for overseeing FIFA’s reform process in the current crisis also cited, “this evidence has not yet been brought forth.”
Since Scala’s recent comments to the media, FIFA officials have fought back. In written statement, FIFA argued that, “Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups by democratic vote of the Executive Committee. Based on expert opinions and available facts, FIFA has no legal grounds to take away the hosting of the FIFA World Cup from Russia and Qatar.” The statement went on to quell future questioning regarding the bids for both tournaments. “We will not speculate on possible scenarios and therefore have no further comments for the time being.”
One of the concept images for a proposed World Cup stadium in Qatar
Hosting a World Cup, as history suggests, brings a nation many spoils, chief among them a surge in nationalistic pride and financial gain. According to Ernst & Young, for example, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil netted the country a total tax revenue of $7.2 billion dollars as a result of investments towards the event, and $2.6 billion in profit over the four-year cycle. FIFA Fan Fests—the massive public viewing parties held in host cities allowing thousands of fans to watch matches on towering LED screens—were attended by 5.2 million spectators from around the globe. Another 3.4 million screaming fans packed Brazil’s stadiums to cheer on their teams with pride (consuming 3.1 million food and beverage transactions along the way). A record-breaking global audience of roughly 1 billion viewers tuned in to see Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup final, while, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation, 14 million jobs were created in the four years leading up to the tournament (Brazil created a mere 19,282 jobs in March 2015, according to a Labor Ministry report published April 23). It doesn’t require the mind of a Nobel prize–winning economist to understand the financial benefits, not to mention global prestige, associated with hosting the FIFA World Cup. What’s more, an FBI-backed investigation is not necessary for the common reader to deduce why some countries, and officials, would go to such extremes in winning World Cup bids.
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil netted the country a total tax revenue of $7.2 billion dollars
Of course, these types of benefits were what Russia and Qatar (among other countries, including the United States, Belgium, Holland, England, Portugal, Spain, Australia, Japan, and South Korea) were seeking when vying for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. Now that the head of FIFA, who was known as a close ally to nontraditional host countries, has fallen, Russia and Qatar have, as Scala’s comments suggest, real reason to be nervous.
Greg Dyke, head of the English Football Association said last week in an interview with Good Morning Britain, “The Swiss authorities are now looking at the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. If you’ve read all the journalism around it, you’d certainly have doubts about the Qatar World Cup. And if that is shown to be true and they can demonstrate that there was corruption then of course it should be rebid.” Before the recent mayhem involving numerous FIFA officials, Qatar had already been at the center of much criticism for their exploitation of South Asian construction workers in building compounds and stadiums for the 2022 World Cup (not to mention the fact they plan to host the first ever World Cup to be held during winter months due to the searing summer temperatures in the country).
In the coming weeks and months, many questions will need to be answered. Among them: what transpired in the four days between Blatter’s re-election to the head of FIFA and his grim faced resignation (just yesterday it was revealed Blatter knew about the $10 million bribe for South Africa’s vote)? How many people are connected in FIFA’s criminal activities? What is the total dollar amount in millions, or billions, exchanged for bribery? Who will take over the reigns of FIFA? Will it be the genial, former French superstar and current head of European soccer, Michel Platini? And ultimately, will Russia and Qatar keep their 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids intact (according to government statistics, Russia has already started to spend its projected $12.2 billion on new stadiums as well as other infrastructure projects in preparation for 2018)? This last question is possibly the most enticing, for if both countries lose their promise to host, namely Qatar, it appears nearly impossible the United States would not earn the right to host the tournament (almost certainly the 2022 World Cup, in which they finished second in voting behind the Arab country).
Whoever is crowned the head of FIFA is assured of one certitude: his or her first job will be answering these aforementioned concerns while simultaneously reclaiming the international trust in the governing body charged to oversee the world’s most popular sport.
by Nick Mafi
Original article published in esquire.com/