I have vivid memories of the day Fifa selected it’s hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. The day held extra significance in England due to our bid for 2018. Confidence was high that for the first time in over 50 years we would be chosen to host the Earths biggest football spectacle. Unfortunately Fifa had other ideas and the nation’s hopes were obliterated with a measly two votes among the 22 Fifa elite, with Russia coming out on top. We barely had time to process this demoralising news before an even more shocking selection added insult to injury – Qatar was to be the nation to welcome football fans in the summer of 2022.
Immediately the reaction was one of astonishment. Before we even begin to consider the logistics of holding a summer tournament in the Middle East we should quickly reflect on Qatar’s credentials. A country with a population of under two million people that has never qualified for a World Cup on merit. In fact the only knowledge I have of Qatar as a football nation is an unbelievable miss in the Asian Cup which quickly became viral. Unsurprisingly there were suggestions in the media that the huge amount of disposable income in the oil-rich state may have played a part in securing the tournament. Such allegations were fuelled by a tabloid scoop in the weeks leading up to the vote which implicated Fifa members at the highest level in a cash-for-votes scandal. Even BBC’s flagship investigative show Panorama broadcast an episode looking into the corruption in the organisation.
But let’s put these arguments to one side and just consider the series of events since the competition was awarded. Cultural problems that have been highlighted include the country’s strict stance on homosexuality at a time when football is trying desperately to rid itself of homophobia, and the prohibition on alcohol which Fifa are hoping to circumvent during the tournament. Just today it has emerged that the construction workers building the stadiums are treated like ‘slaves’. And before too long people had come to realise that the temperatures in Qatar during the summer months would be unbearable. How are players supposed to train? What will the supporters do outside the stadia, assuming that inside they would be air-conditioned? One of the initial ideas to surface was that Qatar would invest in numerous ‘artificial clouds’ which would provide shade wherever it was needed. Seeing as this proposal hasn’t been mentioned since it would seem the plans have been scrapped.
So the only remaining option is to move it to winter for the first time in it’s history – a proposal that has come under intense criticism. The Premier League strongly opposes the move as it would affect fixtures for 3 successive seasons. That’s just one league that needs to be convinced out of the hundreds played around the world. Elsewhere, the man at the forefront of Australia’s failed bid has threatened to take Fifa to court for compensation if the tournament is moved. Many people think that a new country should be chosen, with even Sepp Blatter publicly admitting that it was ‘a mistake’. But the Qatar chief has said they will not give up the tournament without a fight which could cost astronomical amounts of money. It seems the argument will rage on, although there is an increasing sense of inevitability that come 2022 we will be watching a winter World Cup in Qatar. I’m dismayed by Fifa’s actions which have caused this mess and they must accept the scepticism that comes their way in the future as a result. I for one have given up hope of us ever having an organisation ruling football which truly has the best interests of the game at heart.