Why the World Cup bidding process must be completely revamped
Most football fans have a sense that there’s a fair few problems with FIFA and the governing body’s precious offspring: the FIFA World Cup.
In 2015 United States federal prosecutors and Swiss investigators finally revealed the extent of the corruption at FIFA. But this came too late to reverse its most shocking decision: awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Let’s delve into exactly why the World Cup bidding process is so broken and how we can go about fixing it.
When a country offers to host the FIFA World Cup, their bid is supposed to be considered on its merits by representatives of each continent’s footballing association, who each get to vote on the outcome. This sounds great in theory: regional biases are eliminated as everyone gets their say, and correspondingly, the process seems democratic.
However, after the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts were chosen in 2010, it became clear that the voting process was easily corruptible.
Jack Warner, a Vice President of FIFA at the time of the vote, was paid £720,000 from a company owned by a Qatari football official soon after the decision was made. What’s more, a former employee of the Qatari bid team alleged that the country had paid around a million pounds to African officials who had the right to vote in the ballot.
FIFA employed Michael Garcia to author a report into the voting process as rumours of corruption began to swirl in 2012. It was never published – instead FIFA put forward a 42-page summary that Garcia called “incomplete” and “erroneous,” before quitting in disgust.
After the FBI indicted Jack Warner, it became crystal clear that the process had in fact been corrupted. In 2015 Domenico Scala, boss of a FIFA compliance and ethics committee, said that “should there be evidence that the awards to Qatar and Russia came only because of bought votes, then the awards could be cancelled,” but added that no such evidence had yet been uncovered.
This is quite ridiculous. It was evident from the moment that Australia was eliminated in the first round of voting, despite having a decent 2022 bid prepared, that something was very wrong.
Apart from the novelty of a new continent, Qatar didn’t offer anything unique in its bid. In fact, you could make strong arguments that any of the other candidates would have been a better pick.
FIFA announced in 2015 that the tournament would be played in November and December to avoid the scorching Qatari summer. This is going to be a huge hassle for most domestic leagues, and the international squads won’t have enough time to train together before the big event. The Premier League has stated that “the prospect of a winter World Cup is neither workable nor desirable for European domestic football.”
Why didn’t anyone realise this during the voting process?
Russia also has domestic issues that should have precluded them from hosting the World Cup if the vote had been fair. Putin cut the budget for the tournament multiple times due to lacklustre economic conditions in Russia, and the country has struggled with deterring racist incidents at league matches. LINK.
Qatar meanwhile has a long running reputation for poor treatment of its migrant worker population. The International Trade Union Confederation published a predicting there will be at least 4000 worker fatalities during the construction of stadiums for the 2022 event.
When the bidding process is totally undermined, potential host countries will lose faith in the system, resulting in fewer quality bids being made. In fact, only two bids were submitted to host the 2026 World Cup. But this is only part of the reason why the entire process must be revamped.
The cost of hosting the FIFA World Cup is astronomical, especially for countries without sufficient existing infrastructure.
Brazil ultimately shelled out more than £8bn to host the 2014 event, having to build five brand new stadiums and upgrade another seven. Now that the tournament has finished, the government can’t keep up with the enormous maintenance costs of the iconic Maracana stadium, which has been left in ruin.
There’s little evidence that Brazil saw much short or long term return from their investment. Just 2.5% of the total expenditure was returned through tourist spending, and most of the new infrastructure was built in existing hubs – not the poorer areas where it was needed most.
Russia faced similar problems in preparing for 2018 – its government struggled to find the funds required after facing a recession from 2014 to 2017.
The reality then is that hosting the FIFA World Cup isn’t economically feasible for most developing countries. Nations will still bid though, despite the opportunity cost, as their leaders seek international prestige.
One way to solve this problem would to have the World Cup hosted by six to ten different countries on a rotating basis. This way all the necessary infrastructure would already be in place – it would just need to be maintained and upgraded on occasion. As countries grow (or decline) they could apply to be added or removed from the list.
FIFA wouldn’t do this though, and that’s fair enough. Football must be open to everyone, regardless of location. Since the sport is so popular in a range of different countries, isolating smaller African and Asian nations wouldn’t make commercial sense.
Surprisingly, since the removal of Sepp Blatter on corruption charges, FIFA has made some sensible steps to reform the bidding process, which are outlined in this report. They don’t go far enough though – if FIFA officials are bought again, the process could still be corrupted. Instead, the vote needs to be fully transparent, and hosts need to be chosen based on their merits. FIFA’s internal politics must be removed from the equation.
The governing body must establish an independent panel consisting of economists, former players, and regional experts to investigate each bid, overseen by a powerful ethics body. Only when the process is detached from FIFA itself will the World Cup find the best possible hosts for the competition. At present, the governing body’s reputation is too poor to attract enough solid, well thought-through bids.
Ultimately, unless action is taken to reform the governing body from the ground up, and make the tournament economically viable to host, the FIFA World Cup will stagnate and potentially lose its international appeal.
With thanks to Lift Your Game