Lawyers, guns and money and Shari’a Law and air conditioning the desert: how the hell did the US lose World Cup 2022 to Qatar?!

Qatar 2022Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of world soccer, today awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The move is regarded by most as an upset – the odds-on favorite to land the event was the United States, which hosted the most successful Copa in history in 1994. Also in the running were Australia and a combined bid by South Korea and Japan.

“Upset,” I said. Actually, that’s a pretty mild term for this decision, which in many respects defies reason. Consider:

  • Qatar is an extremely small nation with almost no soccer history of infrastructure. It certainly doesn’t have anything remotely like ten stadiums that can hold a World Cup crowd. However, this is an area overrun with oil money, so the plan is to build all the stadiums they’ll need. Then, after the Cup, they’ll disassemble them and donate them to countries that need large stadiums. I’m not making this up.
  • How is all this infrastructure going to be built? Best guess: imported labor. Working in insane heat (see next bullet) and living in less-than-luxurious conditions. Don’t expect too many pictures of this process on the FIFA Web site in the coming years.
  • Temperatures in July average well over a 100°F and can range far higher than that. Their solution? Air conditioning. They’re going to air condition outdoor stadiums.
  • Our friend Rafael Noboa y Rivera also reminds us about the culture clash issues. World Cups tend to be popular with partiers – drunken, half-naked, frequently female partiers – while Qatar is governed by Shari’a law. This is a country so aggressively fundamentalist that it still imprisons gays. It ought to be fascinating to watch. I hope they do a massive multiplayer video game about the activity outside the stadium. And you can play either side. FIFA 2022: 21st Century vs. 14th Century. I smell money.

If you’re thinking this decision smells like meat that’s been left out in the boiling Arabian sun for a couple of days, you aren’t alone. And there are a couple of issues to be pondered. First, why Qatar? Second, why not the US?

The first question is unparsable on rational grounds. FIFA is an international organization that fancies itself a progressive promoter of humanist values (take its anti-racism endeavors, for instance), so a decision to award its signature event to a nation run by a regressive, anti-humanist code from the Dark Ages is inexplicable. And the environmental statement being made is nothing short of appalling. We used to hear a bit about the Green Goal Programme, and they’re making a very big deal about green policies at the Women’s World Cup sites. But if you Google “Green Goal Programme” and start clicking the FIFA links that come up, you’ll notice that they’re gone 404. I don’t know when or why, but this is conspicuous. FIFA passed over Holland/Belgium for the 2018 Cup (a bid that made sustainability a centerpiece of the pitch) in favor of Russia, and then awarded the 2022 event to a crew that’s promising to burn enough oil to air condition the feckin’ desert. Godzilla-sized carbon footprint, anyone?

Wow.

Then there’s part two. Because not only did FIFA not award the Cup to the nation that set the all-time attendance record in 1994 (and that has since witnessed a significant growth in the sport’s popularity), it crawled naked over a lot of jagged terrain to get away from us. Why?

Well, we may never know for sure. Suitcases full of unmarked petrodollars being slid under the table is a powerful carrot, but a few months back someone I was talking to (and I can’t remember who is was, so my apologies for not providing proper credit), pointed something else out.

America has a problem where in-bound travel is concerned. I can’t find any stats, but have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Homeland Security policies, which get more paranoid by the year, present an increasingly formidable barrier to gaining entry to the country. Now, think about 2022, when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of internationals will be seeking to come here for the World Cup. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but think about where these people are coming from, in some cases, and what they look like.

In a very real sense, this would represent a great opportunity for a would-be terrorist organization seeking to either attack in a spectacular fashion or sneak in aided by the chaos. Then imagine that chaos amplified a thousand times by a security apparatus that’s under intense stress already. (Of course, one doesn’t imagine that your average al Qaeda operative would find Qatar exactly inaccessible…)

I’ve heard foreigners say that the rest of the world has had about enough of America’s bullshit when it comes to security. The rest of the free world, they say, manages these problems far better than we do. I’ve heard the same sentiments echoed by Americans who travel abroad a lot, as well.

In light of all this, the person who brought the issue to my attention argued that no way in hell would an organization like FIFA award us the Cup when it was clear we had no clue about managing the logistics associated with the influx of fans from every corner of the globe.

And this was before the whole Gate Rape fiasco exploded in the past few weeks. You figure if FIFA officials were concerned about the security question at all, then our highly publicized controversies over backscatters and pat-downs couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As I say, we may never know. And it’s been a long time since I heard anybody holding forth on the ethical purity of those who run FIFA. Maybe it has nothing to do with security or air conditioning. Maybe it’s as simple as Qatar brought more bribe money than we did.

One thing’s for sure, though. Copa 2022 is going to be interesting, and for reasons that go well beyond what’s happening on the pitch.

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