Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2018 Cup race leaves sour taste

FIFA.On Thursday afternoon we will know the venues for the 2018 & 2022 World Cup Finals and a sorry 21-month multinational spat will blessedly come to an end.
What FIFA had wished would be a smooth process has degenerated into an unseemly mess. As wealthy nations squabble for victory, a public tired of perceived corruption in football politics sigh as their suspicions are reinforced. Whoever wins the 2018 race will not remove the whiff of a grubby power-grab of claim and counter-claim, backroom deals and illicit bribery that has dogged this latest World Cup bidding war.

Don't kill the messenger. The press has every right to shine a light anywhere on FIFA as much as on any form of government: Quis custodet ipsos custodes...FIFA is a nation-state with a global influence approaching the Vatican's, given the way world leaders genuflect before President Sepp Blatter when he visits and leave their domestic problems behind to jet into Switzerland for last-minute lobbying. Yet transparency before the law has been slow to catch up and
the continuing presence of the likes of Vice-President Jack Warner at high table and the closed vote for the hosting decision do not help clean up the general consensus that FIFA is far too secretive for such an internationally pervasive body.

The UK media, sensing a hefty, hard-to-miss quarry, has trained its guns on FIFA Headquarters in Zurich and scored some hits, notably bringing down Reynauld Temarii and Amos Adamu, removed from the 24-man Executive Committee who select the winning bids.

Yesterday the BBC broadcast persuasive allegations that three other Exec. Com. members - Issa Hayatou, Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz, had trousered kickbacks from FIFA's now-collapsed marketing company ISL. England's bidding team had feared the show would derail their bid at the last minute, but in reality the impact is unlikely to tell, given the whole organisation has been under the spotlight for a while and the murky goings-on with ISL, highlighted by investigative reporter Andrew Jennings and others already, date from 1995.

The 2018 race has been particularly unseemly, with Russian bid leader Alexei Sorokin openly sledging against his rivals in breach of FIFA rules, claiming London ha
d a problem with crime and juvenile drinking. Qui accuse, s'accuse...
Spain/Portugal have seen CONMEBOL come out in support of them
before the vote and were cornered with stories they had struck a deal with 2022-bidders Qatar, allegations bolstered by Asian Football Confederation Mohamed Bin Hammam's confirmation of an "excellent relationship" which was "not breaking any rules." Iberian bid boss Miguel Angel Lopez in turn accused The Football Association and US Soccer of a similar pact and criticised English hotels.

England had a great bid on paper with no obvious drawbacks but has had to contend not only with its seemingly perennial lack of influence in FIFA corridors (as Jack Warner reiterated during the bidding process), but it
s own media's lust for blood: F.A. Chairman Lord Triesman resigned in ignominy after being secretly taped claiming Spain and Russia were working together to bribe referees at the World Cup and form a mutual voting pact.

FIFA evaluated England's and Spain/Portugal's bids to be the lowest-risk a
nd England's bid was also judged to be largest potential money-spinner by management consultants McKinsey, in a FIFA-commissioned appraisal. A diplomatic trident of Prime Minister David Cameron, soccer superstar David Beckham and the recently engaged HRH Prince William will be unleashed on the 22 delegates on Thursday morning in the hope of persuading them to forsake their alliances and back the home of football's bid on its merits alone.

The least controversial of the four bids and another perfectly valid one, Belgium & th
e Netherlands', is perhaps not coincidentally the least likely to win. Despite Johann Cruyff's electrifying presence, Ruud Gullit's enthusiasm and the greenness of the bid, elimination in the first-round of voting looms.

The sour grapes can be tasted already, the recriminations as sure as night follows day. As when Germany 'stole' the 2006 hosting from South Africa at the last minute, expect a burst of 'we wuz robbed' outrage and trans-European finger-pointing.
It has been an unpleasant and dirty trek to the final vote in Zurich, and for those of us who wish football were a beautiful game both on and off the field, Thursday cannot come quickly enough.

2018 bidders - Netherlands/Belgium, England, Russia, Spain/Portugal.2022 bidders - Australia, USA, Qatar, Japan, South Korea
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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