Qatar’s pride, others’ prejudice
As critics line up to question the decision to hand the World Cup to Qatar, Iman Kurdi of Arab News says their bitterness ignores the good the tournament can do.
December 5, 2010 2:25 by Ben Flanagan
As I watched the announcement of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups, I found myself getting all emotional.
When Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Thani promised the world that “you will be proud of the Middle East” I shed a tear. That one sentence resonated so deeply that I found myself crying in a burst of emotion. Just a second earlier I was thinking quite differently: I was ruing the fact that I am not a betting person. You see I knew that Russia and Qatar would win their respective bids. Why? Did I have a mole in Zurich? No. Am I clairvoyant? I don’t think so.
No, it just struck me as the logical conclusion to Sepp Blatter’s career. This is the man who changed the rules in 2004 to ensure that South Africa got to host the 2010 World Cup. OK, technically he changed the rules so that only African countries could bid for 2010 that effectively meant that South Africa had it in the bag. But what matters here is his determination to take football beyond the boundaries of the privileged club of nations with a rich footballing history.
The same philosophy had taken the World Cup to the US in 1994. The idea was that it would make soccer as popular and lucrative as American football or baseball or basketball. That challenge failed for one simple reason. The US football team was mediocre. Though they made it through to the second stage where they were knocked out by Brazil, they only won one game, hardly the stuff to get the American public excited about the beautiful game. But the 1994 World Cup was also one of the most successful in the history of the tournament and in the long run has born fruit in its bid to develop the game in the US. The US national team was ranked 14 at the last World Cup and won its group before being knocked out in the second round. It is quite possible that if the US had won the 2022 bid to host the tournament, the US national team could have been a credible contender to win the tournament, rocketing soccer to new heights of popularity in the country. That at least was the argument, that as well as the country’s excellent infrastructure. It was clear that the 2022 bid would be played out between Qatar and the US. But the US has already had its chance, surely the time has come to give the Middle East a chance? That was my thinking.
But first Russia. The press had billed the 2018 bid as a contest between Russia and England. The voting results, however, show a different picture. England was knocked out at the first round of voting, with just two votes from the 22 members of the FIFA executive committee, one of which being their own. Is this entirely a fallout from revelations in the British press about corruption in FIFA? It can’t have done them any favors, that’s for sure. But is that reason enough? Or could it be too that bringing the tournament to Europe’s largest country and to Eastern Europe for the first time in the tournament’s history is a winning argument?
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