Qatar University Stadium design, for the FIFA World Cup 2022
protests in Brazil overshadow the on-pitch spectacle to come, football’s
Zurich-based ruling body FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football
Association) has been facing harsh criticism for its choice of
host countries for the 2018 and 2022 editions: Russia and Qatar.
The association has admitted it made a mistake by
planning to hold the 2022 tournament in the scorching summer months in Qatar. At
the same time, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine
has led to condemnation and sanctions from Western powers.
The timing could not have been worse for FIFA executives, led by the body's
Swiss president, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, who were already battling to contain the
fall-out of violent public protests in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup in
Brazil, which kicks off on June 12.
The roots of public unease about the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to
Russia and Qatar lie in the opaque voting system employed four years ago to
select these countries.
Politicians, celebrities and royalty lobbied FIFA’s 24-person executive
committee hard to secure their votes. The final decision for both Russia and
Qatar was announced after a secret ballot and was greeted with cat-calls of
derision and allegations of foul play and bribery.
“We cannot expect only flawless societies to host such tournaments. If we only
want perfect democracies to host the World Cup, then we have to construct
facilities in Iceland and keep them in place,” Jens Andersen, international
director of pressure group Play the Game, told swissinfo.ch.
“It is very fair that Russia and Qatar got the chance to host the World Cup. But
there are a number of indications that the bidding process was corrupt and that
the final decision to award the tournament to these two countries was not fair
He added that the fact that the tournament went to the two countries with the
poorest technical reports was “suspicious”.
Culture, not money
FIFA has always denied allegations of corruption
and maintains that the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments was
made on purely footballing grounds. Furthermore, FIFA is committed to staging
its prestigious tournament all around the globe, thus boosting football in all
corners of the world.
“The World Cup will discover new cultures in new regions, and that’s something
I’m delighted about,” Blatter said in an interview on FIFA’s website in 2010,
just after the 2018 and 2022 hosts had been decided.
“The sporting media don’t always appreciate the social or cultural importance of
awarding the World Cup finals to a country. They just think about penalties,
corners, refereeing and money. But, as I’ve already said, this decision wasn’t
about making money.”
But the behind-closed-doors nature of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venue votes
has sparked a chain of criticism aimed at Russia and Qatar.
Both host nations have been widely criticised for state-backed homophobic
policies, while workers have been dying under apparent poor conditions
constructing the tournament infrastructure in Qatar.
Even two United States Senators intervened to try to get FIFA to take the
tournament away from Russia following the escalation of violence in Ukraine and
the annexation of Crimea.
“The 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place in Russia as announced. FIFA has not
had any considerations to the contrary,” the FIFA press office told
“FIFA suggests that outrageous misbehaviour by member states does not matter
because such decisions are irrelevant to soccer,” Senator Dan Coates said after
FIFA replied negatively to his letter calling for Russia to be stripped of the
Asking for trouble
FIFA and the chosen host countries only have
themselves to blame for the outpouring of negative sentiment, according to
“If these countries had really been meticulously fair during the bidding
process, it would not have been unreasonable of them not to expect such negative
public attention,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“FIFA’s notoriously bad track record with regard to transparency has added to
this negativity. When the global limelight shines on the festivities of such
tournaments, then the host nation must also accept a global dialogue of less
FIFA has been taking the mounting criticism of its operations on board, not just
in relation to electing World Cup hosts but also to the way it chooses its
presidents. Every recent presidential election has been greeted by the media
with allegations of further bribery.
In response, football’s governing body set up an ethics taskforce, including the
Independent Governance Committee (IGC), headed by former US FBI investigator
Michael Garcia. The IGC is investigating the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids and is
due to report its findings later this year.
“If FIFA is to emerge from the scandals of recent years, it must now produce a
convincing and transparent answer to any issues relating to hosting decisions,
either to confirm that the suspicions are, sadly, well founded or to demonstrate
that they are groundless,” Swiss law professor Mark Pieth commented in a
FIFA-commissioned report that was published in April.
“If allegations are confirmed, FIFA must ensure that the consequences are
Turning a new leaf?
In addition to creating new committees to stress
test the ethical nature of its operations, FIFA changed the World Cup venue
voting system in 2011 to make it theoretically harder to influence votes by foul
play. From now on the executive committee will pass a short list of venues to
the 208-member Congress to vote on.
This system would make it harder for anyone wanting to influence the decision
with bribe money to buy off such a large electorate.
The Swiss parliament is also set this year to debate new laws that would remove
the exemption of sporting organisations from criminal prosecution if they engage
But Andersen is unconvinced that FIFA can change its spots and clean up its act
“I’m not very optimistic that this will happen, but the genuine public and
political dialogue on corruption in sport does give me some hope in the long
run. With this type of sustained pressure, FIFA may eventually decide that it is
too risky to stage events in this way,” he said.