So, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, Sepp Blatter announced yesterday that Brazil
won the rights to the 2014 competition.
Their bid was unopposed.
(By the way, I have come to the conclusion that the least controversial thing that can possibly be uttered by any football fan, in any pub conversation, anywhere in the world – even between the bitterest of rival ultras – are the words “Sepp Blatter must go”).
It is supremely odd
that a major world sporting event is awarded by acclamation, so let's dig into the genesis of this little state of affairs.
When, in early 2000, Blatter failed to secure the 06 World Cup for South Africa, he had a political problem on his hands; in trouble politically for a host of scandals (and for a refresher course on these, I highly recommend the book “Foul!” by erstwhile Kingdom denizen Andrew Jennings), he needed African votes in order to defend his Presidency from the challenge of the CAF's Issa Hayatou.
To do this, he had to make absolutely sure that Africa
would not again be denied the tournament. In short, he had to rig the result.
Standing in the way of this ingenious scheme was Brazil, which had its own designes on the 2010 Cup. For Blatter’s plan to work, the CBF (whose President, Pedro Teixeira is, by a marvelous co-incidence, is the son-in-law of Blatter’s mentor, patron and predecessor, Joao Havelange), needed to be bought off. Blatter, who is nothing if not ingenious, basically decided that he needed a plan that would rig allow him to rig both the 2010 and 2014 Cups in order to keep both groups happy.
Now, this was a tall order, because the attempted rigging of the 02 and 06 cups bids had gone very badly for Zurich. Havelange had desperately wanted 02 to go to Japan. The only reason that a joint cup resulted was because Korea hustled its ass off and was threatening to scrounge enough votes to win the tournament outright. Havelange, desperate to avoid loss of face, imposed a joint tournament on both parties. In 2006, Blatter had confidently expected to cast the deciding vote for South Africa when it was believed that South Africa and Germany were going to head for a 12-12 tie in the final round of voting. But then New Zealander Charlie Dempsey upset those plans by refusing to show up for the final vote, thus allowing Germany to win by a 12-11 margin (and a good thing, too – 2006 was a marvelously-staged event).
Ingeniously, Blatter hit upon the policy of “continental rotation” – an egalitarian-sounding way of distributing sporting-event wealth around the world. Under this policy, Africa was awarded the rights for the 2010 event (Egypt and Morocco submitted bids, but these were never seriously entertained) and South America was awarded the 2010. That done, Brazil won the 2014 gong by acclamation after a combination of Brazilian bullying and fiscal prudence in the rest of the continent prevented others from submitting bids.
So, mission accomplished for Blatter? Maybe, but there’s a couple of loose ends to this tale. First, there’s the issue of what to do with CONCACAF. Under the original deal, 2018 was going to go to North or Central America. This was integral to selling the deal originally. We may be crap at football over in this confederation, but we have 38 votes at FIFA, and Blatter needs those to get his way. However, clearly, there was a lot of commercial pressure being applied not to go 16 years without holding a world cup in football’s European financial heartland. Bowing to this, Blatter decided to screw CONCACAF, end the rotation policy and open up the bidding to all comers (Holland and Belgium have already launched a joint bid and England is certain to do so as well).
Cue outrage from the bizarrely-maned, endomorphic Chuck Blazer, the number 2 man at CONCACAF. “On the basis of equity I would have liked to have seen the rotation followed through by completing the process in the CONCACAF region in 2018. The United States, Canada and Mexico are all absolutely eligible to host the World Cup so we have no lack of candidates. I have already been assured that we will have several bids.” (By "several", I think Chuck means "two". Canada has nothing like the stadium infrastructure required to host a World Cup. We can do a U-20, but the Big Show is completely beyond the country’s reach).
Why did Blatter screw CONCACAF? Bluntly, because he could. CONCACAF’s glorious President, Jack Warner, isn’t about to turn on Blatter for the very simple reason that he was caught setting up a scheme with his son to divert thousands of tickets from Trinidad’s 2006 World Cup allocation in a manner that brought his family substantial financial gain. In a spectacular, behind-closed-doors non-disciplinary hearing, Warner was let off the hook – although asked to pay back the money, he was allowed to remain sitting on all FIFA committees. This is in contrast to the treatment meted out to Botswana’s former FIFA rep, Ismail Bhamjee, who was summarily booted from FIFA for having passed on twelve (count 'em!) tickets from his personal allocation to touts in Germany.
One can only assume that Blatter’s decision to dispense mercy to Warner was not simply a mater of rewarding past loyalty, but a means of guaranteeing it in future, too. For those of you whose taste runs to the Sopranos, Warner is in many ways in the position of Bobby Bacala, all the more loyal to the Boss for having had an offence forgiven. He has therefore been careful not to criticize Blatter directly on this issue – it was Blazer, not Warner, who issued the condemnation. The closest Warner has come to saying anything about the rotation policy is to deliver a frankly weird rant about how Britain shouldn’t be allowed to host 2018 because, as the terrace chant goes, “nobody likes them”. That was about as direct as he could get without offending il capo.
(Note to Jack: buddy, just remember that when the shooting started, Bobby was the first to go.)
But all may not be lost for CONCACAFers looking for a World Cup bid, because there’s a fair chance that Brazil 2014 won’t come off. There has been a lot of feverish speculation about 2010 being yanked from South Africa on grounds of poor security and late stadium construction. While all things are possible, it is highly unlikely at this late date, that South Africa will lose the Cup because preparations are reasonably well advanced and the political fall-out of yanking the event at this point (remember, Africa contains almost a quarter of all FIFA members) would be tremendous.
Not so, Brazil. The country’s transportation infrastructure is chaotic, their stadiums are in lousy condition, and, as Brain Homewood reported in last month’s World Soccer, they have a terrible record at running large events. The recent pan-American games in Rio were a financial fiasco, with stadium construction and renovation costs running 8 times over budget. In organizational terms, Brazil makes South Africa look like Switzerland. And the confederation they dominate – CONMEBOL – only has ten votes at FIFA, which provides them with less political protection if FIFA gets twitchy.
This gives one some reason to believe that we haven’t heard the last about the venue for the 2014, and that either Mexico or the United States (more likely, both) may in about four years time be asked to step in as “emergency hosts” for the Cup, just as Mexico did in 1986 when Colombia lost the staging rights due to security concerns.