The Qatari challenge: The World Cup will meet the Arab world in 2022 (APG Photo).
As I researched this week’s column on the failed U.S. World Cup bid and what can be done in the future to improve U.S. chances, I spoke Monday with Christine Bird, a marketing executive with the Fullerton-based California State Soccer Association – South.
Bird has worked on a variety of major events including the World Cup and Olympic Games and in 2006 was a venue operations manager in Qatar when the nation hosted the 2006 Asian Games.
The focus of the column shifted and none of her remarks made into print, but Bird’s observations about the three months she spent in the country, although four years old now, remain valid.
Here’s a sampling of what she told me:
*The “culture clash” between Arab and Western society in a country where temperatures during the World Cup can soar to over 120 degrees mean people from both cultures will have to compromise:
“It’s going to be a change for them,” she said, adding she saw lots of burkhas. “They have 12 years to sort of contemplate this and decide how it is going to be. Everyone will be briefed before they go what the rules are going to be. People will have to respect what the attitude is.”
*The heat will be a major issue despite Qatar’s pledge to air condition stadiums:
“It is very hot. I arrived in October and it was over 100 degrees. My coworkers were telling me stories of summertime when it was 125 degrees. … Basically you go from indoor facility to indoor facility. It’s a desert. It’s a very dusty environment.”
*No matter how you look at it, Qatar and it’s World Cup will be a unique adventure for Western tourists:
“It’s an unknown to a lot of the world – I think people will be curious to go and see. By the time the event comes around there will be enough knowledge that it will be a safe and fun event that people will want to go. … They will put on a spectacular show. They have the money. They are very much about greeting guests and being good hosts.”
One final note: Bird observed that for the Asian Games Qatar dangled millions in front of athletes willing to become Qatari citizens and compete for that nation.
Will we see Qatar attempting to import, say, a bunch of Brazilians en masse in an effort to qualify for the World Cup? Stay tuned.
Big jersey, big dreams: Qatar created the world’s largest soccer jersey for its successful 2022 World Cup bid. Can the world’s biggest-ever World Cup budget be far behind? (AP Photo).
FIFA responded to criticism of the World Cup bidding process today. The best part of this story – Jack Warner lecturing on the morality of FIFA in comparison to the media:
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — FIFA’s general secretary defended the process for choosing the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Tuesday, but did not rule out the possibility of changing it for 2026.
Jerome Valcke said FIFA has until 2018 to decide if it “should or (should) not change” the way host countries are decided. But he said last week’s vote for the World Cup hosts was “perfectly organized, perfectly transparent and perfectly under control.”
Russia beat bids from England, Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal for 2018. Qatar, which was criticized by FIFA for the heat and its small size, won the 2022 vote ahead of Australia, Japan, United States, and South Korea. The vote was greeted with surprise, in particular in England and the United States, and sparked allegations that the process was too secretive and open to corruption.
Before the vote in Zurich, FIFA’s committee members faced intense British media scrutiny about alleged corruption and vote-trading. FIFA suspended two committee members from for violating ethics rules, but said there was insufficient evidence to prove allegations that Qatar and the Spain-Portugal bid had conspired to trade blocks of votes.
“If we say yes, yes it does not work, we would recognize something went wrong,” said Valcke, who was in Abu Dhabi before Wednesday’s opening match of the Club World Cup. “I’m sorry to say we have organized a voting system which was very transparent.
“If the question is it’s not transparent because you don’t know who voted for whom, you will never know for whom I voted for between Nicolas Sarkozy and (French Socialist politician) Segolene Royal three years ago when the election took place. I will not tell because that is my freedom to decide for whom I voted without having to say publicly my choice.”
Chuck Blazer, a FIFA executive committee member from the United States, insisted “the process had not failed at all.”
Blazer said he voted for Russia and the United States, and denied media allegations that he had reneged on a promise to vote for England, and had backed Qatar for 2022 ahead of his own country.
“I’ve been very clear to anyone who was involved in the bidding and had impression on how I was leaning. I never made a promise to anyone how I was going to vote. I certainly never disappointed anyone,” he said. “I voted for Russia and the United States, and I did so for what I believed were good and sufficient reasons.”
Blazer insisted the secret ballot limited outside pressure on the 22 FIFA executive committee members who voted Thursday.
“Personally, I feel there is a need for a closed ballot at FIFA at this level because of the
fact there are many governments and other individuals interested in potentially influencing the votes of members who may be in their own constituency,” he said. “The one way to protect them is allowing them to vote without it being public. People who yell transparency, well there are problems sometimes in that transparency if it has a negative effect on those people who need to exercise judgment.”
FIFA vice president Jack Warner on Tuesday blamed British media investigations for England’s failure in the 2018 vote.
“The FIFA ExCo as a body could not have voted for England having been insulted by their media in the worst possible way at the same time,” Warner said. “To do so would have been the ultimate insult (to FIFA).”
Three days before the vote, FIFA was hit by corruption allegations when three senior officials were accused by the European media of having received secret payments. Executive committee members Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and Issa Hayatou of Camaroon were said to have allegedly received payoffs from world soccer’s former marketing agency. The BBC and Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger and Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that three long-standing members of FIFA’s ruling panel received kickbacks from marketing agency ISL from 1989-99.
Valke and Blazer said it was time to move past these allegations and Blazer insisted the
allegations in no way tainted either winner.
“I don’t want any of that to take away from victory of Russia and Qatar in having been
successful in the vote,” Blazer said. “I was satisfied when I left the voting room that the
vote had been held democratically, that people had voted their own conscious and this was the result.”