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Monday, December 6, 2010

Qatar 2022: The game's not in US yet

FIFA decided last week that the World Cup 2022 would be held in Qatar. A travesty? Brilliant move? Sign of corruption? A step in the right direction? Only time will tell. Hopefully it's a positive move. But for those that disagree, there is plenty of credence in their claims.

Having read about Qatar's plans for air conditioned stadia, training grounds and alcohol permits, things don't look so bad. So, there are certainly some positives. From increased attention to the sport in the Arab world, recognition of this culture's love for the game and opening their doors for the rest of the world, to the promise of millions of dollars for player development in the Middle East. Indeed, reports suggest that Qatar's hosting of the Cup could be an economic coup for the world football governing body and this area of the world. Billions of dollars in communications packages, temporal coverage for 82% of world population (they are 8 hrs ahead of ET). Indeed, it may be difficult for Pacific islands but not for land masses (as was the case with Korea/Japan 2002.

Qatar also has very deep pockets. Enough for hotel/stadia. Also within the package is the fact that they plan to ship their stadiums elsewhere once the games are over. An interesting proposal. But where? How? The Middle East? That's their intention so let's hope it remains so.

But let's have some perspective. Qatar is in the 113th place in FIFA rankings. And yes, those rankings don't mean so much when you get to the top 50 or so, but this diminutive nation has never made it to the World Cup. It boasts a population of ~1.6 million. Expect up to a third of its population in tourists alone. Are they going to air condition the entire country? Remember that the World Cup is always held during the boreal summer. 2022 will be no different.

So what happened to the US' bid? Overtaken by a diminutive country with limited soccer history but with very deep pockets. That's where Qatar won, in the amount of private resources available. The USA has world class stadiums, ardent fans, media support, and excellent transportation systems. But it wasn't enough. This country is still ruled by the big three: Football, Basketball and Baseball. Even though there is significant ethnic diversity and large populations from nearly every corner in the world, it still wasn't enough.

It is my hope that it came down to technical aspects of Qatar's bid and not so much its pocketbook or alleged corruption claims. Would CONCACAF really have betrayed the US? Truthfully, I think a #1 requirement for a World Cup host is to have participated in at least one such event. If this were Saudi Arabia, Iran (with political caveats) or United Arab Emirates, perhaps critics out there, including myself, would not have second guesses on FIFA's decisions. I also hope that FIFA isn't doing this to act as a Robin Hood of sorts, i.e. giving competition chances to those that lack them. Or is it that FIFA is, as some out there claim, a type of mafia.

If the US needs a soccer tournament to enhance the sport's image then I suggest Conmebol and Concacaf stop stalling and finally create the Copa Americas that we have been asking for ever since the Copa America started inviting Concacaf teams to the continental tournament. The Gold Cup could remain as a qualifier mechanism. Right now, as it is, the Gold Cup is highly defective due to its perennial hosting in the United States and because it's held every two years. Time for a change.... how nice would it be to have a Copa Americas USA 2015 or 2019?

In the end I embrace FIFA's decision as a show of trust in the Arab world, a way to link the world's population for peaceful purposes in an area of the planet experiencing so much turmoil, and also for the development of the untapped talent in this part of the globe. Qatar has the resources to throw a great party. Good luck.

1 comment:

Alastair McCandless said...

Well said, it was an interesting choice, but hopefully it will work out, with only a small percentage of players dying from heat stroke. I think overall its good for the sport to have the World Cup in the Middle East for the first time - there were doubters about South Africa's ability to host and all-in-all I think the tournament went quite well.