FIFA has decided to award the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, FIFA President Sepp Blatter took to the stage in Zurich Thursday and gave a speech about how, “In football we learn to win and this is easy, in football we also learn to lose and this is not so easy.” Then he got down to business. Until Thursday morning, Russia had been the odds-on favorite to win the 2018 hosting honors but in light of a quite brilliant presentation by the England bid team (described by Blatter as “excellent and remarkable”), the motherland of world soccer was considered the likely choice to get the nod.
But Russia confirmed that the bookies were spot on and all this despite Prime Minister Vladimir Putin deciding against attending the decision in Zurich. While many saw that as his throwing in the towel, the allure of his country holding the greatest show on earth for the first time may well have been the key reason Russia won the bid. What’s more, Putin is now on his way to Zurich and called the decision “a sign of trust” for his country.
FIFA promised to disclose the full vote and it’s emerged that Russia won as early as the second round of voting (England was knocked out in the first round, much like the real thing, if you wanted to be unkind). The British media — the BBC and Sunday Times in particular — is set to possibly carry the can for the poor showing as their investigating of alleged bribery within FIFA could have been a factor too far in the eyes of the 22 voters, some of whom were directly implicated by the charges. And it’s been reported that Blatter allegedly reminded the voters Thursday of the “evils of the press” and “recent media coverage.”
And the 2022 decision went as predicted with Qatar winning the rights to be the first Arab country to hold a World Cup. As with 2018, some felt that the U.S. presentation mirrored the dazzling spectacle provided by England as former President Bill Clinton, as well as the likes of Morgan Freeman and Landon Donovan, had thought to have offered a compelling argument to give the U.S. a second World Cup within 30 years. Instead, Qatar nearly received the 12 votes needed for outright victory as early as the first round — falling one short — and went on to defeat the U.S. in the fourth and final round of voting.
Despite FIFA’s misgivings over the Qatari bid — mainly due to the climate — FIFA is clearly sending a message to the wider world that it wants to give World Cups to countries who haven’t held them before and thus can create a long-lasting legacy that rival bidders are unable to create as they’re already established soccer nations. “We go to new lands,” said Blatter. But that won’t ease the pain of the losing nations, who will now have to try and exact a measure of revenge by winning where it matters just as much: on the field of play.