I remember feeling nervous excitement on the morning of December 2, 2010, as I waited for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (more commonly known as FIFA) to announce the countries that would host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.
In the months leading up to their ultimate decision, FIFA’s Board of Directors had narrowed down the 2022 World Cup bid to five potential host countries: The United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar. Of these five nations, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States were the only nations with enough existing soccer stadiums to hold the tournament. Since Japan and South Korea had co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, it seemed unlikely to me that FIFA would already consider awarding either country as host for the competition again. Though Australia had stadiums and two distinguished cities in Sydney and Melbourne which would make for grandiose sites to host the tournament’s final, it seemed to lack the political influence within FIFA’s Board of Governors to be a legitimate threat to win the hosting bid.
Both my heart and mind were fixated on the many reasons why the United States would be an obvious choice to host the competition. Not only was soccer more popular in the United States than it ever had been, but the resurrection and expansion of the MLS led to the construction of new soccer stadiums in big cities in various regions all across the country. If the World Cup were to be held next summer, the United States would easily be able to organize the competition. It only seemed right that the U.S. should be a logical choice for FIFA’s Board.
I spent much of my early childhood attending home games for the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas U.S.A. in Southern California. Since I was young, I remember hearing my father frequently reiterate just how much he would love to see a World Cup game live during his lifetime. On that rainy December morning, I crossed my fingers for both my 58-year-old dad and I; I envisioned my father and I as two of the 92,000 fans in attendance at the 2022 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.
But I, along with millions of soccer fans around the world, was dumbfounded by FIFA’s decision. Soon after, soccer’s most prominent governing body would be engulfed in accusations of political corruption.
At around 8:55 a.m. PST, I snuck out of my second period European History class so that I could watch FIFA make the announcement. When the clock struck 9, I stared intently at my phone hoping that I would see FIFA President Sepp Blatter hoisting a white card that read “U.S.A.” It did not. Instead, the card announced that the world’s greatest soccer tournament would be held in Qatar, a tiny nation on the Persian Gulf.
In the four years since Sepp Blatter and the FIFA Board’s controversial decision, FIFA has been under constant scrutiny from soccer federations and officials alike. Several investigations were conducted to look into the vote-selling scandals within the Board of Directors, as many Qatari lobbying groups were found to be connected to several of FIFA’s key board members. Qatar’s hosting bid was contingent upon the country’s ability to construct or expand 12 soccer stadiums. Qatar turned to a largely South Asian labor force to build these venues, and the abuses the workers have faced have reflected poorly on both the image of Qatar and of FIFA as a whole.
In addition, FIFA has had to ponder holding Qatar’s 2022 World Cup in the winter in order to avoid the country’s scorching hot summers. With average summer temperatures over 100°F, soccer trainers and medics around the world feel that playing in the summer heat would endanger each country’s athletes. Since FIFA has never hosted a World Cup in the Winter, and this tournament would cause conflicts with many club leagues, the organization is becoming increasingly reluctant to allow the Arab country to host the event.
This week, Theo Zwanzinger, a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee said, “I personally think that the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar.” In addition, FIFA is conducting deeper private investigations into the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup, and may have the power to strip the country of it’s hosting bid if vote-selling and corruption can be proven. As FIFA’s Board has continued to be accused of bribery, there is an increased skepticism within the soccer world that Qatar will retain the right to host soccer’s most renowned competition in 2022.
If Qatar is stripped of the 2022 World Cup, who will be awarded with the rights to host the tournament?
My prediction is that FIFA’s Board will be forced to select the country that can most easily and dependably accommodate millions of fans and supporters from around the world. They will choose a country that has the required stadiums already in place and has the resources to guarantee a lucrative and prosperous event for each nation involved.
I still feel the sting of that morning four years ago, but it seems that FIFA may have another chance to make the right decision—the decision that they could have made the first time around.
I still have hope that in eight years I’ll be watching a World Cup match at the Rose Bowl with my 70-year-old dad.
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