K E I R R A D N E D G E C O M M E N T A R Y
** Different countries, different cultures, different challenges. All are pointed up by World Cup preparations as, uniquely, three countries wind up, simultaneously, to host football’s greatest party.
As far as Brazil 2014 is concerned, it all gets real finally at the end of next week with the draw in Sao Paulo for next summer’s Confederations Cup; Russia’s 2018 organisers have just proposed their own Confed Cup venues for 2017; and Qatar’s 2022 people are balancing their own confidence against continuing foreign scepticism.
Oddly, it is Qatar which appears most in control of its own destiny – even with a caveat about the unknown factor of a summer or winter date this is out their hands anyway and up to FIFA.
The advantage for Qatar is that the World Cup infrastructure has been included a blue sky planning concept to develop the region around Doha. No old structures or suburbs or favelas to subsume or build around or crush: only sand to clear.
The Qataris are resigned to a need to keep fending off smears about how they won the bid, just as South Africa had to keep fending off scare stories about security right up to the Opening Match in Soccer City in June 2010.
Such negative publicity is the unavoidable downside of playing host: remember the headlines of doom, gloom and disaster ahead of London 2012 when G4S failed to step up to the plate? And how did the Games proceed?
The finals in Brazil are 19 months away and nothing is certain except for a great deal of blind-faith in the hope that it will be all right on the night.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter demonstrated that optimism this week, during his visit to St George’s Park, the Football Association’s impressive new training centre in the Midlands, north of Birmingham. Asked about Brazil he insisted: “Of course they will be ready. We are talking about Brazil. No-one can doubt that they will be ready.”
He will be in Sao Paulo for the Confed Cup draw but he also has a meeting with state President Dilma Rousseff scheduled into his trip to stress world football’s expectations and perpetual need for high-level reassurance.
Qatar, by contrast, expects to have the infrastructure – hotels, transport, stadia – all built and in place similarly far out. Hassan Al Thawadi, general secretary of the organising Supreme Committee, said in London recently that “by that stage we won’t have to worry about the infrastructure; we will already be much more focused on legacy and operational issues.”
The Russians are also busy, certainly much busier than the Brazilians at five years distance. Whereas Brazil has struggled to find six stadia likely to be ready for the 2013 Confed Cup so the Russians have already set out their stall for 2017: St Petersburg has been proposed for the Opening Match and final supported by Moscow Spartak, Kazan and Sotchi.
FIFA’s executive committee will review the proposals in Tokyo on December 14.
Will the exco also take into consideration the fact that Russia, for all its bid promises, appears to have made no progress whatsoever in terms of fans’ racist behaviour and hooliganism?
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko – who is also a member of the FIFA exco – came up with the Confed Cup venues only days after abandonment of a league match between Dynamo and Zenit St Petersburg in Moscow when the Dynamo goalkeeper was injured by a firework thrown by a Zenit follower.
Some 53 fans were arrested and champions Zenit have been handed a derisory two-match home game ban and $16,000 fine.
FIFA need not rush a decision on 2017 right now: it should insist that the Russian take visible action to sort out their hooligans and put a St Petersburg decision on ice until then.
Might concentrate a few minds: nothing else has.
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Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
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