This morning was meant to be the time when Australia awoke, rubbed its eyes and discovered it had been embraced by the footballing world overnight. Instead, we emerged from our slumber to find ourselves introduced to the strange, dystopian world of FIFA.
Australia’s rejection as host of the 2022 World Cup was as unsurprising as it was brutal. Up against a country with no sporting infrastructure to speak of and three other foes, one of which is teetering on the brink of nuclear war, that have all hosted the event in the past 16 years, Australia came last with just one vote from the 22-strong FIFA committee.
Ben Buckley, chief executive of the FFA, muttered to the press that he was convinced that Australia had garnered more than its solitary vote. The former North Melbourne defender will be pining today for the indigenous code’s ethos of reward through hard graft and excellence alone.
In FIFA world, as the innocents of Australia’s bid team found out, solid, technical bids are not enough to secure the world’s largest sporting event. Backs need to be scratched. As one journalist wryly observed at this morning’s vote in Zurich, FIFA’s HQ has sliding doors due to the difficulty in opening doors with greased palms.
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Qatar, the 2022 bid winner, has a population of just 1.6 million. The tiny Middle East state currently has none of the five stadiums it plans to build for the tournament.
It will build all of the venues in one 25-kilometre stretch of its territory. The stadiums will then be, in some sort of reverse Ikea move, packed up and sent to Africa. With temperatures hitting 46 degrees in summer, construction will be impossible for around three hours a day.
FIFA talks loftily of “legacy” when awarding its showpiece tournament. However, with Qatar’s huge underclass of foreign labour working on a vanity exercise that will disappear once the tournament over, there is no legacy. This is FIFA-sanctioned servitude.
None of this, of course, matters. The Qatar bid had the support of Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, which has in turn, been a staunch ally of FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The decision to hold the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes at the same time only raised the possibility of backroom deals via vote-swapping.
Australia, so removed from the circles of FIFA power, as well as being geographically distant from the lucrative European TV market, didn’t stand a chance.
Perhaps more surprising was England’s indignation at gaining a paltry two votes in its bid for the 2018 World Cup. England, unlike Australia, knows the charade of FIFA’s process. For a member of the bid team to fume anonymously that delegates “had looked us in the eye and lied” was a little naïve.
England should’ve known that its bid was scuppered as soon as the Sunday Times, and then BBC’s Panorama, exposed corruption in the voting process. This kind of unhelpful press freedom was always going to be more damaging than the kind that saw WikiLeaks uncover the involvement of the mafia in decision making at the heart of government in Russia, the 2018 victor.
For Australia, the petty point-scoring of the AFL over venues was not needed. Parochialism has won out. The country will remain adrift from the world’s premier sporting event. But there is no shame in not meeting the unwritten criteria of FIFA.