Globalist Analysis

FIFA Scores Two Goals for Globalism

Are the British just being sore losers in protesting their loss of the 2018 World Cup to Russia?

Credit: ArtisticPhoto Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The Muslim world in general, and the Middle East in particular, have never been showcased to host any great international sporting tournament before.
  • The fact that FIFA was determined to award the World Cup to nations and regions that had never hosted it before was not exactly a secret.
  • Russia, for all its many economic, social and political problems, certainly does not lack the wealth and financial resources to host the World Cup.
  • Qataris have convinced FIFA to have open-air stadiums with solar panel technology to reduce temperatures enough for soccer games to be played.
  • These very extremes will emphasize the universality of soccer and display its appeal and the practicality of playing it in all environments.

The British people were outraged: It was a national humiliation. Their government and soccer authorities were confident they would win the race to host the World Cup in 2018.

For the first time in 52 years, soccer (association football) — the most global and international of all sports — would come home. Its supreme tournament would be held in the land where it was invented. Or so they thought.

But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, FIFA — to the shock and outrage of the British government and media — awarded the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 one to Qatar.

British media raged at the choices and criticized them ferociously. Russia was lambasted as being far too cold for soccer and not having remotely suitable infrastructure to hold it — and Qatar as too hot in summer.

Most of all, the authorities at FIFA were virtually accused of improper conduct and assailed as having misled the British and being dishonest. British soccer authorities claimed that they had been locked out and never had a chance.

In their eyes, FIFA had already made up its mind to “spread the World Cup around” and award it to countries and regions where it had never been held before. This was presented to the British people as some form of betrayal.

Yet the fact that FIFA was determined to award the World Cup to nations and regions that had never hosted it before was not exactly a secret. It was the most openly declared and already twice-confirmed highly publicized fact in the sporting world.

For British soccer authorities to claim they were ignorant about this elementary fact indicated that they were not telling the truth or, no less displeasurable, guilty of the most extraordinary ignorance and ineptitude.

FIFA, after all, had awarded the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. It was the first time the tournament had ever been hosted anywhere in Africa, or in any developing country.

And to the last minute, that bold decision by FIFA executives was assailed by prophets of doom as being sure to lead to chaos, fiasco or some kind of disaster.

Of course, nothing of the kind happened. The hosting of the tournament in June was a triumph — and a festival of joy for the entire African continent and its many peoples, as it was for South Africa and the entire world.

South Africa successfully built and operated outstanding stadiums and a communications infrastructure that will enrich the quality of life for its own citizens for generations to come.

The next tournament in 2014 is already confirmed to be held in Brazil — applying the same principle. And Brazil, indeed, had a far stronger moral claim to host the World Cup than Britain.

For although soccer was invented in England, the Brazilian people have been its most passionate and dominant practitioners for at least the past 60 years.

Their record of winning World Cups is unequalled and, until recently, their sides have played the most entertaining, expressive and popular soccer of any national side.

Further, Britain had previously hosted a World Cup — highly successfully — back in 1966. And on that occasion to great national rejoicing.

There is certainly an excellent case to be made for allowing Britain to host the tournament again. But it is not an urgent one. And there is no reason why it has to be now.

Also, the British can hardly complain that they are being slighted, or sidelined somehow in the contests to host international sporting spectaculars. London will be hosting the greatest sporting event of all — the Summer Olympic Games — in 2012.

For all the lamentations that Britain has "lost the World Cup forever," a successful hosting of the 2012 Olympics will immeasurably strengthen the British case for mounting a renewed bid to host the 2026 or 2030 tournaments.

The most important point about FIFA’s decisions for 2018 and 2022, however, is that they were the right ones. They were bold, visionary and generous in the best sense.

For the peoples of the Russian-speaking, Slavic, Orthodox Christian and former Soviet nation are all passionate about their soccer and have never had the chance to adequately display that on the world stage.

Russia, for all its many economic, social and political problems, certainly does not lack the wealth and financial resources to host the World Cup.

It is the largest combined oil- and natural-gas-exporting nation in the world. Oil prices are not only currently stable at a robust $80-85 per barrel — but are projected to rise to a plateau level of around $100 per barrel by the Paris-based Institute for Energy Analysis.

The Russians can thus be relied upon to have enough money to build and upgrade the infrastructure they need to host the Games.

Also late spring and early summer in Russia is usually perfect soccer weather (global warming permitting).

And at a time when political and social tensions threaten to reemerge between Russia and the West, nothing could be better timed than to bring East and West together in what is, along with the Summer Olympics, the greatest sporting event and celebration of international brotherhood and harmony in the world.

FIFA should therefore be applauded for showing wisdom and vision in picking Russia to host the 2018 Cup.

This is even more the case in choosing Qatar. Its contrasts with Russia could not be greater. Qatar is one of the smallest nations in FIFA, while Russia, in terms of territory, is incomparably the largest.

And Qatar is as notorious for exceptionally hot weather in summer as Russia is for coldness in winter.

But these very extremes will emphasize the universality of soccer and display its appeal and the practicality of playing it in both environments.

Anyone who has traveled at all in the Muslim world in general, and especially in the Middle East, will have been struck by the universal passion for soccer across the many nations involved.

But the Muslim world in general, and the Middle East in particular, have never been showcased to host any great international sporting tournament before.

Giving them their chance is long overdue — by at least half a century in fact. At least Russia, as the core nation of the Soviet Union, can boast having hosted the 1980 Olympic Games.

It is certainly the case that regular temperatures in summer in the Arabian or Persian Gulf are among the highest in the world. But the technology certainly exists to create air-conditioned facilities for training.

The Qataris have convinced FIFA to have open-air stadiums with solar panel technology to reduce temperatures to allow soccer games to be played. And they will have a full 14 years under international supervision to construct and test the necessary systems and infrastructure.

(There is currently talk of moving the 2022 World Cup from June to January, to avoid the extreme heat. If nothing else, this is a further indication of the global power shift currently underway from Global North to Global South: The World Cup has always been held in the Northern summer, which of course is the Southern hemisphere’s winter.)

In short, Qatar is one of the best-run oil-rich Gulf states, and its competence to host the Cup and build the necessary infrastructure should not be in doubt.

Terrorism concerns, while real, would be equally so in any country that hosts the Cup. And, again, there will be a long lead time of 14 years for the necessary precautions to be taken and security preparations to be made.

Curiously, most of the predictions of fiasco and disaster for both the Russian and Qatari-hosted World Cups have come from the British. There was virtually no anger or outrage at FIFA’s decisions in nations such as the United States, Australia or Spain.

They too lost out in the contest to host the competitions, even though none of those three nations, unlike Britain, enjoys the rather considerable consolation of hosting the 2012, or any other upcoming, Olympic Games.

Britain, in the Premier League, is home to one of soccer’s greatest regular tournaments and institutions. But for decades, the performance of the English (and Scottish) national sides in soccer has been woeful.

However, if there is one thing the British have always been admired for in all their sporting endeavors, it is of their reverence for “playing the game” gracefully, whatever the outcome. The British have for more than a century set an admirable record of being gracious losers in sporting events.

It’s time they relearned that admirable virtue and recognized FIFA’s wisdom and generosity in awarding the upcoming World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

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About Martin Sieff

Martin Sieff is a book author, consultant and former foreign editor.

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