Qatar 2022 The Culmination of Blatter’s Flawed, Corrupt Personal Ambition

“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”

–Ernest Lawrence Thayer, from Casey At the Bat

The United States lost its 2022 World Cup bid today to Qatar, a tiny(and I know this isn’t politically correct, these days) Middle Eastern country with a population a fifth the size of the place your author calls home, Atlanta. The net result, while not a death knell, is a crushing setback to the US Soccer Federation and the growth of the game in this country. The emotive impact is far greater. Even in this holiday season, the one of perpetual hope, the one where a smile on a sidewalk lasts a little longer, a cup of coffee tastes a bit better and the coming New Year ensures a future brighter, I for one, feel little joy in my heart. It is hard not to recall the 122 year old poem about the Mudville nine, particularly the last stanza, and in such a recollection remember that my pain is shared across this nation, and felt, undoubtedly, by more folks than populate little Qatar.

Maybe Thayer’s words aren’t enough, in terms of analogy. Those familiar with the poem will know the opening “The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day”, and they’ll say hey—the comeback was brave as most baseball comebacks are, but they were behind two with only one out to work with. This was not supposed to be the case with the United States’ World Cup bid—the Yanks were long fancied a favorite and Qatar’s bid, initially the subject of a funny joke or two, had only recently gained steam. It’s as if Qatar were the Mudville Nine, and Casey hit a three run homer. Perhaps that’s the trouble in taking solace, as one can often do, in a poem. Then again, there’s a level of disillusionment in that thinking. History will state that Qatar’s bid gained great momentum in the final months, and while the United States did nothing in wrong, Qatar and the band of oil sheiks who fueled the bid purchased (quite literally) dignitary after dignitary to stand behind their bid. After a series of backroom deals (think an old Democratic Convention, with all the cigar smoke but more money), Qatar had rounded up a voting bloc just large enough to overcome strong bids from the United States and fellow-English speaking nation Australia. As a result, tiny Qatar hosts, and there is little joy or music in my heart.

How did this happen? Why did this happen? What is the impact? The how is situated at the intersection of complicated and simple, as most troubling things in life are. The deep cynics will scream of oil and FIFA corruption, of purchased votes and grandiose, corrupt promises, and that will be that. They’ll be somewhere south of correct. The pure in heart, the naïve and Quixotic will say the US didn’t do enough, the bid wasn’t strong, the government backing was weak and we’ve no one but ourselves to blame. The best bid wins, they’ll argue. And when US bid dignitary Morgan Freeman missed a page in the presentation yesterday, they’d found their metaphor for US Soccer Federation failure. They’d be somewhere due north of correct. In between is the cruel reality that shades hearts a deep blue today.

First, as Jason Davis at Match Fit USA wrote yesterday, while expressing his general level of fatigue over the situation, the best bid doesn’t always win. Unlike Davis, your author has clearly, and will continue to, allow the decision to affect his mood. But it isn’t, as some of that argument suggests, or as the cynics insist, entirely about corruption and oil money either. There’s a certain level of “change the world” politics and hope involved, and that element set the stage for what happened today. To be clear: I don’t think a grandiose vision of world peace and harmony was the reason Qatar was awarded the World Cup Finals in 2022, but I am quite sure there’s a sequencing question involved, and this vision enabled the excess that culminated in American shock and sadness.

Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, is at-bottom, a Swiss-educated middle-aged man who your author thinks is torn between his personal, political interests and his background in economics and finance. Blatter’s view of football, in a vacuum, is grandiose and utopian. A fan of intercontinental philosophy and post World War II French thinkers, notably Jacques Derrida. Blatter believes that the world is an increasingly darkening place overrun by the dangers and excesses of rapid globalization. His knowledge-base and educational background convince him that there are threats to humanity throughout the world: nuclear proliferation, terror, disease, famine. His role as FIFA President serves as personal confirmation that his worldview is correct. How could the world not be an increasingly dark place with very little unifying hope? He sees the problems everywhere his travels take him. And yet there is a detachment from those troubles in soccer. The game, he thinks, serves and has long-served as a mechanism to separate despair and hopelessness from a game, and that, he believes, is illustrative that the common thread of humanity, the JFK “We are all Berliners” sentiment can still exist and perhaps is best located within the world’s favorite game. Soccer is a way to unify in the face of increasing darkness, against the onslaught of new global rivalries and against the excesses and violence innate to rapid globalization.

Blatter’s history as FIFA President confirms this—his federation’s choice of South Africa as host in 2010 was initially met with wild skepticism and controversy. It was a part of the world known only for the negative: civil conflict, rampant disease, famine, hopelessness. Years of Apartheid had just ended at the time South Africa was awarded the Finals, and safety and the ability of South Africa to move past the racial hatred and bigotry of its past and welcome the world was significantly in doubt. Blatter had other ideas: as much as he could without an outward display of bias, he got behind the bid. He pointed to the South African Rugby World Cup as proof of the unifying and political game-changing ability of sport. He harped on the historical significance of a Cup Finals held on the African continent. When South Africa hosted the event without a hitch, his vision of a world bettered by football was personally confirmed; his choice redeemed.

There is a disjoint here, of course, with reality. South Africa has run up an immense debt hosting the tournament, the shantytowns that were just miles from the glorious new stadiums have seen little in the way of improved social services or post-World-Cup revenues, and the country certainly didn’t end the event in the black.  These things matter little to Blatter, however; they are willfully ignored in the name of intangible things like inspiration and hope. It is these things which propel us to a better world, one emphasizing common humanity. It is these things that make it easy for Blatter to willfully ignore the dark underbelly of South Africa’s experience hosting the World Cup—that classist divides have replaced Apartheid as the new South African social ill, and the Cup did very little to alleviate the tough day-to-day lives of “common” South Africans.

No, Blatter would rather drink the kool aid of his vision of soccer as global peacemaker than listen to the boots-on-the-ground account of the situation, which leads us back to our sequencing question about today’s Qatar announcement. There is a willful ignorance of what will happen in the name of a fantastical vision about what will happen that set this announcement on its course over a year ago. Forget the FIFA corruption-scandal so meticulously reported by the mostly British but to some extent largely European press contingent in the build-up to the announcement. There’s likely merit to a great deal of these arguments, but at least this author would argue those were enabled by Blatter, and as such, the FIFA leadership structure’s, willful ignorance in the name of something grander. Former USMNT striker and current Fox Soccer Channel commentator Eric Wynalda likes to say that Blatter’s largest personal goal in life is a Nobel Peace Prize. This may be true, and one of the lessons history teaches us about personal ambition is it often fosters a dark underbelly, corrupt at the least and violent at the worst. Blatter’s view of soccer as global unifier, as political peacemaker, is admirable enough. The fact that it is so bruised by personal ambition so as to become irredeemably corrupt, however, is unforgivable, and precisely how we ended up where we are today, with Qatar elected to host the 2022 event.

Even a marvelous speech from the United States' most beloved international figure couldn't rescue a strong, but doomed, American bid.

It would have been one thing if the Americans lost their bid to Australia, a nation hoping to host the event for the first time and the architect of what was, in the author’s view, an immensely strong bid. The Aussies hosted perhaps the most memorable and successful Summer Olympics in memory in Sydney and have a flair for the big event. The weather would have been similar to the heat present in America but manageable, and while travel to the island continent is expensive and television time-conflicts with Europe and North America would have made for early mornings, there would have been few safety concerns, plenty of existing stadiums, and an almost-certain wave of rabid fans and tourists. Indeed, the Americans who bought the most tickets for South Africa of any nation in the competition probably would have sent an even larger contingent to Australia. This isn’t to say that the Australian bid was better than the United States. As Grant Wahl writes, it wasn’t and it is hard to imagine the Americans could have done more. Even a passionate and memorable speech from the United States’ most internationally beloved figure, President Bill Clinton, wasn’t enough. And remember, it isn’t about the “best bid.” A combination of considerations goes into every final World Cup destination, and to be quite honest, that’s probably okay. What it does suggest is that Qatar was an entirely inappropriate choice.

Let’s start with the most fundamental of questions—logistics. Qatar has two football stadiums in the status quo. They’ve made assurances they’ll build more, but those are just assurances and the recent problems with stadium construction and infrastructure in South Africa and Brazil are enough to raise red flags. While it is true that there is no shortage of money behind the Qatar bid—oil money corrects a host of infrastructural ills, if need be—those concerns nonetheless exist. Temperature will be a concern too. Enter another “promise” with no weight in contemporary, boots-on-the-ground reality. Games simply can’t be played in 120 degree heat, and all we’re left with is the promise of air-conditioned stadiums and training grounds. How this helps fans moving from one place to another or enjoying the revelry of a World Cup is beyond your author, but it is all we are given from the Qatar bid committee. Speaking of revelry, there are all manner of issues on this front. We’re told Qatari hotels and resorts serve alcohol and are equipped with swimming pools, weight rooms and places to celebrate. But there are hardly enough of them and what about the folks on a budget who need to venture outside the typically plush and expensive confinements of Middle Eastern resorts? Crickets are all we hear when seeking the answer to this common query. As to the obvious safety concerns, where we’re left with the assurances of oligarchic oil sheiks in charge of Qatar that all will be well. Americans and British folks in particular are always at risk when the travel to the Middle East. Ditto the Jews and potential Israeli contingent. It is true that Qatar is on-paper an American ally (I’ll spare you commentary on this absurdity), but twenty-three young American men and whatever fans brave the trip will probably experience perpetual fear in Qatar, which is the opposite of what the Finals are supposed to be about. The politics of Qatar are oligarchic yet authoritarian, stable yet constantly at risk in the region of the world most at risk to immediate political turbulence and flashpoint conflict. We can’t be sure what to expect twelve years from now. As individuals, we aren’t even certain to be here. But we know because history teaches that those of us blessed to be around could be headed to an entirely different nation than the one awarded the 2022 World Cup today. That concern alone should have been enough to forestall Blatter’s choice, but willful ignorance, and of course, the compelling wallets of oil sheiks, was enough to overcome these typically deadly bid deficiencies. And that is enough to create an absence of joy, even if only for a few days, in this author’s heart.

Marvelous drawings and Promises, Coupled With Oil Money, Are Enough To Host A World Cup These Days, and that's a shame.

Somewhere in the small, deep corners of Sepp Blatter’s heart, there is likely a vision of Qatar hosting and the world’s view of the Middle East and perhaps the Middle East’s view of itself, changing for the better. Peace and diplomatic discussion, moderate reform, all generated by a game. One wonders if he read too much into Franklin Foer’s wonderful “How Soccer Explains the World”, and somehow thought that Foer’s argument about secular nationalism providing a hope, through soccer, for the globe against rising Islamic radicalism could apply on an international scale if the tournament were awarded to Qatar. There can be little doubt that this was the bill of goods, the ruse the Qatar bid committee and the powerful oil sheiks behind it were selling as they purchased dignitary after dignitary, vote after vote. If so, I’d remind him that while the Iranian football revolution of 1997 did lead to some moderate reforms for women in Iran—the nation currently is more oriented towards radicalism and violence than reform, more situated towards repression than the one that featured women in powerful societal positions under the clerics.

Qatar, with a long history ofhuman rights abuses, can’t speak too proudly about moderate reform. Forget that it is illegal to be drunk in public, as was often tweeted by angry American fans today. That’s illegal in the United States too. Remember other things, important things, like the fact that for a women to work in Qatar she has to register with a government agency. If she doesn’t, she can be imprisoned for most her life. The laws governing women and their behavior in that country are so repressive they make Apartheid look like a Long Island clambake. Remember that before you wax poetic about the transformative potential of soccer and its ability to be a vehicle for secular nationalism and modern reform. We should all remember, and we should all protest, because in the end, Sepp Blatter forgot, partly in the name of an overambitious, personal utopian vision. And as Yanks Are Coming co-founder Jon Levy put it earlier today, no, “the complimentary oil tanker perhaps delivered to Blatter’s front door didn’t hurt as ‘a message of good will’  either…a billion dollars or Euros goes a long way in this economy.” He’s right, and it is a shame Blatter, the voting blocs, and FIFA as a federation forgot. South Africa’s bid, and the tournament it held, whatever the financial distress, at least had an honest and good-intentioned face in Nelson Mandela behind its message of hope and inspiration. Qatar’s had billions of dollars and oil sheiks. Heck, even Russia 2018 has its upside: it can demonstrate how far Russia has come since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Sarah Palin can watch from her house. But Qatar purchasing a World Cup finals, that thing that comes along only 20 or so times in one’s life if they are lucky, on the back of a flawed, willfully ignorant bit of personal ambition? Well, that’s enough to buy the joy right out of a great many hearts.

Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at nwblackmon@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.

Filed Under: December 2010

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  • Cameron

    Good article–I completely agree. It’s amazing how oil money and an overly ambitious, corrupt FIFA president can just erase the “little” problems that Qatar has. Horrible decision by FIFA, although these are the same people who think that goal-line tech is unnecessary because they like the “controversy,” so I’m not even sure why I’m surprised.

    Also, I understand that these new stadiums will be air conditioned, but what about training pitches? You need extensive facilities where every single nation can have a substantial amount of practice time every day. That is a LOT of construction if they’re going to build enough training grounds to support everyone.

  • Kevin in Denver

    I wasn’t surprised when FIFA awarded 2022 to Qatar, and I won’t be surprised when 2022 ends up being held in the United States.

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  • http://www.yanksarecoming.com Jon

    At the risk of coming off as a xenophobic racist prone to over-simplification: Couldn’t these bastards have just bought an English Premier League team like the UAE ruling family did? I hear the Bolton Wanderers are in debt.

    Great writing Neil, I’ll get on booking us a couple rooms in Jabba’s palace.

  • Amy

    This whole situation is, as you wrote, extremely sad in the short-term and depressing in the long-term, not just for the millions disappointed by the “choice” FIFA has made, but for the growth of the game in the country itself.

    There’s an argument that this was the final straw tilting the 2010 scale to a bit disappointing for the USMNT, and I think it’s a strong one. Would have been easier to remember 2010 for winning he group had we won the World Cup bid. Losing means we remember the sadness of Ghana and a failed Cup bid more prominently instead. That’s a shame.

  • daniel

    i don’t mind russia, though would’ve preferred england because it’s easier to get to. qatar on the other hand–about the last place in the world i have an interest in visiting. i’m a pretty loyal USMNT supporter but there has go to be more to offer than vegas-style resorts for me to do in the 90 minutes i’m not watching a match. thanks but no thanks.

  • Adnan

    Deluded, selfish and racist are few words which come to my mind reading the aricle.
    It amazes me how gullible,ignorant and biased the people in US really are. They will blindly without question follow what the media feeds them or what
    some naive columnists write or clueless websites propagate as the gospel truth.
    Here is a link to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Bribery Scandal – Salt Lake City Utah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Winter_Olympic_bid_scandal
    Its easy to talk about petrodollars and bribery but to introspect and challenge your own government is unpatriotic and borders on blasphemy !!. If half of what wikileaks publishes is true then its a shame to call USA “Land of the free, Home of the Brave”.

    Souls in the states must be REALLY depressed to have hinged all your hopes on this bid as in the editor’s words “The net result, while not a death knell, is a crushing setback to the US Soccer Federation and the growth of the game in this country”. Why don’t you try winning the cup instead or resorting to mudslinging.
    For a former world power ( yeah u read that right ) still in the clutches of a devastating recession it was always going to be a pipedream as far as the bid was concerned.

    Instead of harping on about how Qatar is unworthy I really suggest you do your groundwork before making preposterous allegations.

    PS: Its FOOTBALL , not SOCCER.

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    Adnan,

    What specifically in the column was racist ? Where, specifically, did I argue that bribery or corruption were unique to Qatar’s bid comparative to other bids? Your criticism of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic games makes a poor argument with a link of omission– that is to say– you assert something that, while possibly true, is not the opposite of anything I claimed in the column. I never suggested the US hasn’t been guilty of corruption in the past. I simply suggested (rightfully) that they had the strongest bid for this Cup, and that of the finalists, Qatar had one of, if not the, weakest bid.

    Is the recession devastating? Sure. But is the United States a declining superpower? Hardly. The USA is still the world’s largest economy, its largest supplier of global foreign aid, and the nation with the most technologically advanced and capable military. Hardly losing sleep at night over the USA’s position in the global universe.

    As far as it be a crushing blow to US Soccer- to suggest anything else would be to ignore fact, or it would be, as you put it, a failure to “do my groundwork.” The Cup in 94 brought US Soccer out of the dark ages. A cup where the Americans would have a legitimate chance to win (anyone they host in the future, by the way)– that would clearly be a boon to a game that is growing, but whose growth will now slow.

    Finally, it is either “football” or “soccer”, buddy. You’re pretentious tone is the one that smacks of elitism and racism– and is ignorant as well. Read “The Ball is Round”, if you need help. The game was called “soccer” in jolly old England until right around the time the Yanks invented a new game and called it football. The Brits changed the name to football when the Yanks started calling it soccer– and claimed it as an original. Read a book.

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  • Adnan

    There were 22 qualified and deserving individuals in that room when Qatar won the bid 14-8. “ASSUMING” Blatter was bought, 13 men saw a “tiny” country more worthy of hosting the event than a country with the “best bid”.

    I said ignorant because their are more than 3000 US troops in Qatar among thousands of foreigners ( western included ) who dwell here without having to live in “perpetual fear”.

    Its easy to criticise womens rights but i am sure any woman in the gulf would be much safer than the states knowing the abysmal crime rates there. If by rights/freedom u mean pregnant teenagers, drug abuse, drunk driving, driveby’s , etc, your right – the gulf states are way behind.

    The US had its chance, as u rightly state, in 94. Now its the arabs/gulf who need to get out of the dark ages having never even made it to the semi-finals.
    In the end i would like to say that we could argue/speculate all day long but lets wait 12 years and find out whether the decision was a blunder or a masterstroke.

    Peace Out

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    I don’t think Blatter was bought– I think the money was extra incentive. As I argued– Blatter’s notion that change would occur in Qatar or the Middle East was a bill of goods, sold to him, that he bought. Meanwhile, it is fact that the delegation from Qatar purchased dignitary after dignitary– no matter the price (see Zidane)– to line up behind the bid, and made several deals with people in voting blocs regarding oil and the like.

    As for the safety, I’d argue it’s not ignorant to make distinctions between the feeling of safety of American troops and a regular citizen. But I’ll concede perpetual was the wrong word, and apologize for that.

    Women feel plenty safe enjoying their liberties in the States. I will discuss it and will continue to. Maybe Blatter is right and things will change. I know the gulf states can allow women’s rights– Iran under the clerics was proof.

    You are right. It is twelve years away. There’s no question Qatar has the financial and technological capability to host. I hope they can pull it off. I just feel the weakest bid was awarded the finals.

    God Bless.

  • Oskar

    Great article. 13 stadiums in a 30km radius, this will be interesting. Any credibility FIFA had prior to this announcement sure has been torn to shreds. A disappointing day.

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  • Jared

    Adnan,

    Can you really think that only Sepp was bought out of all of the members on the voting committee? 2 were kicked out for getting caught asking for bribes. It’s pretty well known that Jack Warner is corrupt.

    My biggest issue with Qatar is that they will now be entered into the World Cup with a team that is ranked 113 in the FIFA rankings. They are taking up a spot of a country that deserves to be there. The US will try to win the World Cup maybe Qatar should try to qualify for one first.

  • Amy

    Blatter, Jack Warner… governors from delegations where expensive endorsements were purchased. Again, it would be one thing if the US lost its bid to Australia, who had similar strengths and not nearly the number of weaknesses. Or if Qatar had a plan as to how it would help whoever inherited the stadiums utilize them for development…or if they could answer questions about what happens to the jobs created for the Qatari underclass after the construction is finished. If those questions could be answered a bit better– it would be easier to understand. But they aren’t; it isn’t.

    I’m left with this mental image of Zidane at the ceremony, thinking about whether he should invest his million euros he made for the endorsement and the vote of the French governor or whether he should pour it into one Henry’s charities– redistribute the wealth, as Obama would say :)

    I have a feeling how that tale ends.

  • Amy B

    You are very, very misinformed about Qatar. As someone who has actually been there (twice) I’m pretty disgusted that someone can write so authoritatively about a topic they know nothing about.

    I’m writing this on an iPhone, which makes it hard to even begin to deconstruct some of the myths you are peddling, but please consider visiting Qatar or at least speak to one of the many hundreds of thousands of Brits and Americans working in the country.

    I am following discussions about Qatar 2022 on Twitter, which is how I picked up this blog, and it’s really sad to see such misinformation being poste with such a sense of authority.

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    Amy,

    Respectfully, I’m not. As an attorney with a background in civil rights and international law, I wouldn’t make statements about the

    a. treatment of women in that country

    or

    b. human rights record

    without exploring fact. There record is pretty shameful, especially when it comes to NATIVE Qatari women in the workplace and laws regarding their place in civil society. This is supported by the UN Human Rights Commission as well as several Human Rights Organizations.

    Hardly “myth.” I understand the US has troops on the ground and several thousand men and women from the States and Britain work there. I’ve only had the fortune of speaking to a couple, and reviews were mixed.

    I regret using the word “perpetual” to describe fear travelers to the Cup might feel, but that is not a region of the world either country’s state department thinks one should travel too without full-scale precautions.

    Thanks for sharing your views. But I don’t know “nothing.” In fact, I’d be happy to interview you or discuss your experiences there. I’m always open to hearing alternative viewpoints, particularly ones that counter a longstanding, well-documented human rights record. Thanks.

  • http://www.fairshakeofthesaucebottlemate.com/fitasa pete samuels

    These guys at Fair Shake of the Sauce Bottle have found proof to show who really won the world cup bid for 2022 – sham for sure.

    http://www.fairshakeofthesaucebottlemate.com/

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