Ok, I’ve had 24 hours to be mad about about this. It’s easy to say, “The vote was rigged. Qatar and Russia bought the Cups.” And while that’s probably true, I don’t think you can just end the conversation there.
For one thing, we’re a country in which college alumni will pay $200k to have a 20 year old quarterback come play for their school. It’s not as if we’re above the whole corruption thing. If the World Cup was up for sale, we were certainly making our own backroom deals. So let’s not pretend we’re innocent angels who weren’t prepared to fight dirty.
Also, we need to look at FIFA. This is an organization that oversees soccer confederations on 6 continents and hosts 12 different soccer tournaments across the globe. Sponsors include companies like Budweiser, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, etc… Source: Wikipedia. This is a huge company. They aren’t just running the Poinsettia Bowl and taking bribes to give Notre Dame a bid. This is a multi-national, multi-billion dollar organization, whose chief motivation is to make make money for everyone involved in the group. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume these guys aren’t idiots.
So, making these assumptions that we were ready and prepared to bribe officials, and that FIFA is made up of smart guys, why did England and the US get shunned? Here are some reasons I can imagine:
1) The U.S. story is old – Look, I love Morgan Freeman too. And Bill Clinton has charm. But we came out with the message of, “Look we have a lot of stadiums already, and lots of hotels too. Plus, we have a diverse population. It’s a slam dunk, no risk, low-hanging fruit alternative.” It’s kind of the same argument the Hyatt gives you when you are planning a wedding. “Look, we have a big boring conference room, you can have a choice of steak or chicken, and there will be plenty of parking for the guests.” Not very interesting. Meanwhile Qatar came in with an entirely new message. “Sure we have no stadiums and no infrastructure. But we have money – and lots of it. So we’ll build shiny new carbon neutral, solar powered, soccer specific stadiums that we’ll take down after the event, hook them up to a futuristic transportation system, and develop a giant version of Sim City that the world will marvel at. Think Disney World for Soccer.” That really is a more interesting wedding than one at a hotel.
2) The Perceived Decline of the West – These games are being held in 2018 and 2022, not 2010. And the rest of the world looks at the U.S. and says, “Hmm, I don’t see where they are making their comeback.” I mean when the city of Detroit is eating itself block by block to get rid of unused buildings, I’m not sure where you see that the U.S. is a solid bet to be thriving in 2022. Meanwhile, Qatar and Russia have all that gas and oil money.
3) The Nobel Prize Angle – On one hand, I kind of think FIFA should be congratulated for taking such a giant risk. They are telling a country in the Middle East that they have faith in the region. Now, at least someone has the responsibility for keeping the lunatics at bay. Anyone involved with the 2022 World Cup, especially Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, will have Mid East leaders on speed dial every time they start to get itchy trigger fingers. If the World Cup brings some level of stability to the Mid East, which in turn brings some sort of cooperation between West, East and Mid East, then give Blatter and his guys the Nobel Prize.
4) We don’t have the most money anymore – Let’s face it, this election was bought. And that’s an election style we used to like, because we had the most money. We don’t anymore. This is an international economics story, not a sports story. Maybe now we can admit it’s time to change the way we do things.
I’m sure I’ll add to this post soon.
5) One thing that surprises me is that FIFA has now made it impossible for China to get a World Cup until at least 2034. And who knows what the world will look like by then.
6) JR makes a good point below that diversification could be a reason. But, diversification doesn’t explain going all the way to the limit of Qatar. You could have solved the diversification point with any of the candidates – Australia, Spain/Portugal or Netherlands/Belgium.
7) To expand on a point I was trying to make above, it’s an absolute pity that the U.S. couldn’t make any kinds of claims to have carbon-neutral stadiums and an efficient transportation system 12 years from now. Doesn’t that seem weird and sad that it doesn’t even cross our minds that we could lead the world in architectural and transportation innovation?