Thursday, December 2, 2010

FIFA Taps Qatar for 2022 Cup

Today's announcement by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has finally ended the American bid to host the World Cup once again, in 2022.  By vote of the World Cup organizing committee, the 2018 World Cup will go to Russia-- which I think is a good choice-- and the 2022 World Cup goes to Qatar, which I think is a terrible choice.

Why is awarding the bid to Qatar such a bad idea?  Let me count the ways:

1.  Qatar is ranked # 113 in the world rankings-- the lowest any host nation has ever been ranked, at the time they were awarded the World Cup.  Basically, they have no soccer tradition; almost every other country in the Middle East, including Israel, has a more fully developed soccer tradition than Qatar does.  This win by Qatar gives hope to Futbol powerhouses like Fiji and the Seychelles, that one day they too can host the World Cup.

2.  Qatar is really small!  About the size of Connecticut.  The US Air Force could cover the whole place with outdoor carpeting in less than 24 hours.  When FIFA awarded the World Cup to Japan and Korea, it was as a joint bid and both of these countries are significantly larger than Qatar, and they still had to work hard to make it work.  Same for South Africa.  But Qatar?  There is ONLY ONE CITY in the whole country-- Doha.  The bid would make more sense if it was co-hosted by the nearby United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would instantly add the large cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to the mix.  That would make more sense.  But no-- it seems to be all Qatar.  Look for state-of-the-art football stadiums to be built in the middle of the desert, near smallish desert settlements surrounded only by hot sand, camels and vast parking lots.

3.  The country is REALLY hot!  It's a desert, for crying out loud!  Temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius are not unheard of.  Allegedly, Qatar has plans in their bid to ensure that vast air-conditioning systems are installed in the World Cup stadiums; but considering that none of this infrastructure has been built yet, I think that FIFA is totally rolling the dice on having The Most Unpleasant World Cup Ever.  If that happens, it will also be the World Cup with the lowest attendance as well.

4.  Qatar is in the Middle East.  To state it plainly: VISITING TARGETS.  The security at this World Cup is going to be a nightmare.  Sure, the citizens of Qatar are fairly modern and progressive people; but who else from the Middle East will be visiting?

Furthermore... although the Persian Gulf countries have a more progressive reputation than the rest of the Middle East, it is also true that their social mores are more... restrictive than, say, Brazil.  Women are not even allowed to bare their shoulders in public.  So what happens when all those people from other countries want to Par-Tay, World Cup style, according to their own traditions and mores?  Is this the part where we see Qatari police go nuts and lock up Brazilian women because of bare shoulders or a tit that accidentally popped out of a blouse while she was cheering?  What about the English lads who want a pint after the match?  Or the Spaniards swilling Sangria after La Furia Roja wins?  Oh yeah, this is either going to be the most repressive World Cup ever... or it will disgust the rest of the pious Middle East, if Qatar lightens up a bit on the social mores for the Cup.  Either way, someone is going to be unhappy.

I understand why FIFA gave it to Qatar-- they want to award the Middle East for the growth of soccer there, and encourage its further development in the Middle East.  Given this basic motive, choosing one of the Gulf states was really the only option-- places like Saudi Arabia or Syria are out of the question (multiply all the concerns above x 3), and anyway they did not bid.  Further, Qatar is the richest nation on earth, on a per-capita basis.  So they have the money to spend on building oodles of stadiums, which is necessary for a successful bid.  Before this is over, Qatar will have more soccer stadiums than cities of over 40,000 people.

So, to me this looks like a square-peg / round-hole situation.  Qatar is too small, too hot, too restrictive, and too Middle East, to host this event with the degree of internationalism it deserves.  The decision to give the 2018 games to Russia is comprehensible-- the Russians have the size and the soccer tradition and the money to do a fine job.  They've hosted the Olympic games before, quite successfully.  No concerns there. 


I appreciate FIFA's committment to "spreading the wealth," but this was ridiculous. 

This is the worst Host nation selection in the history of the World Cup.