World Cup losers call for bidding overhaul

i-6f24d92042ab2744832b77e476d01514-worldcupnewspapers.jpgPaper tigers: The “evil” British media weigh in on the World Cup bidding process in their signature sensationalistic style (AP Photos).

Is hosting a World Cup about creating piles of cash for FIFA or all about the good of the sport?

Don’t answer that.

Is it time to overhaul the bidding process?

The losers think so – on both sides of the Atlantic, according to this Associated Press story:

NEW YORK (AP) — The American member of FIFA’s executive committee says politics came into play in the votes to have Russia and Qatar host the World Cup and that soccer’s governing body must reconsider how it decides future tournament sites.

Chuck Blazer said that because FIFA is unlikely to choose the 2026 host for eight years, it should consider changes well before it’s time to vote again.

A supporter of the failed U.S. bid for 2022, Blazer said he thinks the North and Central
American and Caribbean confederation was the biggest loser in the decision to end FIFA’s policy of rotating World Cup hosts among the continents.

“The shame of all of it is under the rotation system, clearly ’18 would have been ours, and we gave way to lifting that system in order to provide Europe with a good opportunity and FIFA to have another European World Cup in between,” he said Friday from Zurich in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

FIFA adopted a continental rotation system in August 2000, three weeks after Germany defeated South Africa 12-11 in the vote for 2006 World Cup host. It was scrapped in October 2007 over CONCACAF’s objection, a day before Brazil was unanimously elected the 2014 host — it was the only bidder.

CONCACAF has not hosted a World Cup since the 1994 tournament in the United States.

“I’ve got to think in the end that having moved away from what had been agreed to as the rotation, that we ended up with the short end of that stick as a confederation,” said Blazer, the No. 2 official in CONCACAF.

With eight of the 24 executive committee votes, Europe wound up as the only continent
competing for 2018 as others did the math months in advance and withdrew. Russia won Thursday’s balloting over England, Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium.

England received just two votes and was knocked out on the first round.

“I think they had a great bid. They certainly have great facilities. But for me, going into
the day, it was clear to me they didn’t have the votes to win,” Blazer said.

Qatar won 2022, beating the United States 14-8 in the final round after Australia, Japan and South Korea were eliminated.

Blazer, while saying Qatar won the vote fairly, said he thinks jockeying for support to
succeed the 74-year-old Blatter, who replaced Joao Havelange as president in 1998, was a factor. Blatter is running for a fourth term and has said he is braced for a candidate from Asia to challenge him in the vote at the FIFA Congress, May 31-June 1.

Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam is president of the Asian Football Confederation, which would have nearly half the votes needed to elect a president if it votes as a bloc.

“I don’t think these are decisions anymore made purely on what’s the best place to host it or who’s best capable of doing the best job,” Blazer said. “If you consider that there are potential candidates that are looking to align support, Asia is certainly a major piece of the puzzle as we are going forward.”

The entire FIFA Congress often picked World Cup hosts — many times there was one viable candidate — through 1966, when the venues for 1974, 1978 and 1982 were decided. Voting then switched to the smaller executive committee, which in its first contested election selected Mexico in 1983 for the 1986 tournament as the replacement for Colombia, which withdrew.

i-332247dc1042aaf5634d5852d0682362-chuckblazer.jpg

Blazer, above, thinks the system should be re-examined.

“In the beginning of this process, I thought the executive committee was the right body to
make the decision because … FIFA depends on the World Cup for all of its revenues,” he said. “But in the end, because of the combination of decisions which are taken sometimes on the basis of political and other considerations, I think we may have to look at a different way of doing things in the future.”

Members of England’s failed bid agreed.

England and the United States were considered the best prospects for technically successful and profitable tournaments, yet those evaluations appeared to matter little in the voting. FIFA instead opted for the grand design projects of Russia and Qatar, sending the World Cup to Eastern Europe and the Middle East for the first time.

This follows this year’s World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the African
continent.

“It’s quite hard to stomach that (high technical marks) seems to count for absolutely
nothing,” Andy Anson, the England 2018 chief executive, said at a briefing Friday. “I would say right now, don’t bother (bidding) until you know that the process is going to change to allow bids like ours to win.”

Anson also called on FIFA to introduce broader and more transparent decision-making, which currently involves up to 24 executive committee members voting in a secret ballot.

Aggressive scrutiny by the British media was a factor at the end of bid campaigns after two FIFA voters were barred following an investigation into alleged bribe-taking and
vote-rigging.

Anson claimed that minutes before the vote began, FIFA president Sepp Blatter reminded his executive colleagues of the “evil of the media.”

The England official said the comment was “unhelpful,” and other voters gave it as a reason for deserting the bid, which gained only two votes. One was from Geoff Thompson, its own executive committee representative.

Anson, a former Manchester United executive who has signed global commercial contracts, said he felt let down.

“It’s hard not to when people promise you something and don’t deliver,” he said. “I’ve sold a lot of things to a lot of people, and when people shake your hand you’ve usually got a deal.”

Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s culture secretary, branded FIFA’s rejection of England a “slap in the face” and also questioned the world governing body’s voting methods.

“If the strategy is to take the game to new parts of the world, what is the point of a
technical evaluation at all?” Hunt, who was part of England’s delegation in Zurich, wrote on his blog.

How the bidding process should be changed, however, Blazer doesn’t know. But he said it should be done soon, before countries and confederations begin jockeying for the 2026 World Cup.

The U.S. has not said whether it will bid for 2026 or not.

“We have eight years until the next time we need to do this again,” Blazer said. “I think it’s best for us to be doing it where the people who are going to make the recommendations can detach themselves. … The earlier we do it in the cycle so that we can be not identifying ourselves as the then-voters, I think the better.”

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!
  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Anson is absolutely right. The only solution is to give FIFA competition. England should form a breakaway organization with the United States, Japan, South Korea, Belgium and the Netherlands as charter members. Given the economic and marketing power all those nations have, they can easily persuade big companies like Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and others to abandon FIFA and sign exclusive sponsorship contracts.

    It’s also an utter joke that Blazer is criticizing the system that supports his lavish lifestyle…unless he sees a sinking ship and wants to desert Blatter and his cronies ASAP. People like Blazer might be stupid but they know how to survive.