KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Ten years ago this week – precisely, on December 2, 2010 – the executive committee of world football federation FIFA voted to award the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar.
The votes stunned world sport but that was nothing compared with the explosive events of the subsequent five years when revelations of a massive network of corruption brought FIFA to its knees. This is how I reported from Zurich on that memorably infamous and snowy day 10 years ago:
** Go west young man? Now that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is long past his first flush of youth the opposite applies. Thus the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 are heading east to Russia and Qatar, instead.
Those two nations were clear ballot-box winners of a dramatic climactic week to three years of increasing confusion and negative publicity ever since FIFA decided, at a Tokyo executive committee meeting, to settle two World Cups at once.
Blatter was the third winner in Zurich. As he approaches a re-election year he will be standing, almost certainly unopposed, for a fourth term emboldened by the Power of Putin and the Gold of the Gulf.
He will also hope against hope that resolution of the bidding battles may put an end to unwelcome media scrutiny of the murky operations of too many of his exco colleagues.
The hosting destination of the World Cups is now no longer a headline issue in England, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal and even less in Japan, South Korea and the United States.
The winds of change which had blustered through the trees masking the House of Football may well blow themselves out.
The role of the media over the last few months since the vote-rigging allegations in The Sunday Times, the ticket-scam accusations in Norway’s Dagbladet and the resurrection of the ISL corpse by BBC Television, demands analysis in due course.
For the record now, the sight of FIFA – from Blatter to ethics chairman Claudio Sulser to Spanish federation chief Angel Villar – attempting to shoot the messengers while ignoring the message – that radical change of FIFA’s structures and secretive philosophy is essential – was unedifying to say the least.
This will not, of course, detract from the triumphs of Russia and Qatar in their separate wars by winning the political battles. These were the key.
The technical reports, so painstakingly put together by Harold Mayne-Nicholls and his team, proved irrelevant; an outside consultancy could have gathered the essential information in a quarter of the time at a quarter of the cost and with a minimum of time-wasting fuss for all concerned.
Similarly, the final presentations were revealed by the votes as a meaningless hoop-la. Alexey Sorokin, Russia’s bid ceo, had noted presciently months earlier that a good presentation cannot win votes; only a bad presentation might lose votes.
For the record, Qatar produced by far the best 2022 presentation, sharply delivered with the right mix of issues, a clever engaging narrative, and all supported by the most impressive videos. Thus FIFA is taking a fascinating leap into the unknown, a leap of faith into the promise of the gas-rich Gulf state’s immeasurable wealth.
The Japanese concentration on what – to borrow Michel Platini’s phrase about goal-line technology – might be termed ‘PlayStation football’ was too way-out;
Australia’s reliance on a cartoon kangaroo was twee, to say the least;
the South Koreans were undermined by a tediously lengthy diatribe from a former prime minister on the history of the Korean war (when will the Koreans understand that this is a no-no in sports event bidding?); and
the United States disappointed with an Oscar-winner actor in Morgan Freeman who could not be bothered to learn his lines and former President Bill Clinton running seven minutes overtime with a ponderous address promoting his own foundation rather than the bid.
The 2018 packages were better.
HollandBelgium entertained with an ingenious series of redubbed prophetic interviews;
Spain/Portugal had Villar virtually making love on-stage to his exco colleagues;
Russia, looking inward, told FIFA what the World Cup would do for them (international legacy, what’s that?); and
England was a class above the rest in terms of balance, narrative and personality mix from Prince William to Prime Minister David Cameroon to David Beckham . . . for all the good it did them.
Then it was on to the secret ballot. Some secret! An hour before Blatter pulled open the second envelope the word was out that Qatar had won; Russia’s success leaked out half an hour before due time.
Vladimir Putin duly flew to Zurich to celebrate. Of all the 2018 bids he was the only prime minister who did not feel any need to take to the presentation stage.
At the time that was a surprise which sent the media hilariously off track. With hindsight everything became clear: he did not need to step up: the votes had long been in the FIFA bag.