Russia and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after an acrimonious bidding war marred by allegations of corruption and illegal deal-making.
The bombshell conclusion to two years of frenzied lobbying saw Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter reveal the winners after a secret ballot of 22 Fifa executive committee members in Zurich.
The announcement means the World Cup will be staged in two countries which have never hosted the event before following the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Russia prevailed in the 2018 race, upsetting England and bids from Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and the Netherlands.
Putin gives temporary worries
The outcome represented a stunning comeback for Russia, whose campaign had believed to be in trouble after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declined to join the lobbying effort in Zurich. Putin had also launched a stinging attack on England’s bid on the eve of the vote, accusing the country’s media of “smearing” officials.
But the shock of the day came in the 2022 race, where Qatar beat off competition from the US, Australia and South Korea and Japan in a remarkable result. Qatar 2022 bid president Mohammed bin Hamadal Thani promised, “We won’t let you down. You will be proud of us, proud of the Middle East.”
Qatar’s win came despite reservations being raised about the logistical problems of staging the tournament in the searing heat. Although the Qataris have promised to build an array of state of the art stadia which are climate-controlled, the technology has never been tested on a large-scale before.
England bid team dejected
England 2018 officials declined to respond to the criticism, but were left dejected after launching a heavyweight increasingly optimistic after lobbying offensive led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham. All three men took to the stage to appeal for the tournament.
“I love football, we love football and that’s why it would’ve been such an honour to host it,” said Prince William. Beckham apologised to his countrymen and said, “Apologies we couldn’t bring the World Cup to our country. There are no more passionate fans in the world than England.”
The results brought the curtain down on the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with Fifa facing myriad of allegations of corruption which led to two executive committee members being suspended. Blatter acknowledged that the decision to stage votes for two tournaments at the same time was a mistake, making illegal horse-trading between bids inevitable.
Qatar’s Hamadal Thani
“We won’t let you down. You will be proud of us, proud of the Middle East as we host the World Cup. We are offering Fifa a historic opportunity to expand the frontiers of the World Cup.”
Russia’s Igor Shuvalov
“You have entrusted us with the Fifa World Cup for 2018 and I can promise, we all can promise, you will never regret it. Let us make history together as we host the World Cup.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2010.