Thursday, December 02, 2010

Qatar??? Really?!?

The sports world received a huge shock today when FIFA announced their selection for the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. England was bidding for the 2018 World Cup. London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a separate organization from the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). They make their selections separately, even if they seem to coincide (1994 World Cup in the USA, 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; 2014 World Cup in Brazil, 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro).

In a surprising move, FIFA decided to announce the selections for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups at the same time. To the dismay of English soccer hooligans, Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Naturally, charges of bribery from the Russian mafia have cropped up online. That decision, however is not a bad one. Russia has been wanting to host another Summer Olympics for a long time now, and had to "settle" for hosting a Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014. By hosting the multi-game World Cup, Russia will be able to showcase cities besides Moscow and St. Petersburg.

However, the truly shocking announcement occurred when Qatar was announced the host for 2022. The United States really wanted this one, going so far as to enlist former President Bill Clinton (who was seen at several World Cup games in South Africa this summer, having a great time and hanging out with members of Team USA) as a special ambassador and advocate for why we deserved a second World Cup. I probably ticked off some friends of mine on Facebook when I argued why we probably would not (and should not) get it. Many other countries have not had the opportunity and we had one not too long ago. For the 1994 World Cup, we had a strong advocate in Brazilian soccer star Pele who dreamed of seeing the World Cup come to the United States. The hope was that a U.S. hosting duty of the World Cup would finally bring soccer into the major leagues as far as fans are concerned. Instead, it remains a "niche sport" which attracts American viewers approximately every four years during the World Cup.

Also in the running for 2022 were: Australia, South Korea, and Japan. I would have loved it if Australia had won the right. That would have been my choice. It would be 22 years between the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and the country is large enough to feature games in every one of its major cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, and Cairns).

Instead, FIFA had other plans. They decided to go for unprecedented. This will be the first major international sporting event in an Arab country. But one has to wonder: Why Qatar? The United Arab Emirates is a larger country than Qatar (which is slightly smaller than Connecticut). Qatar will be the smallest country to host the World Cup. In fact, you can't even see it on the map of the world I have at the top of my blog. Even more audacious, the population is around a million people and the country will need to build nine soccer stadiums before 2022, which is wasteful, since they are unlikely to use those stadiums after the thirty days of the World Cup. Additionally, the oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf is far from the rest of the world and the construction projects are built by "guest workers" from other parts of the world. Another factor that was not an obvious consideration for FIFA: the intense 120 degree heat in the summertime. Playing in this kind of heat might actually help African and Arab teams to defeat the powerful European and South American teams.

I've read some articles that this rejection of America as host for yet another international sporting event could be a sign of our pariah status in the aftermath of an internationally hated Bush era. Perhaps. However, as a devoted internationalist, I believe in fairness and we already had our chance in 1994. So many other nations have not hosted an Olympics or a World Cup and want to, so why not be happy for the other nations?

Pictured above is Doha, the biggest city and capital of Qatar. It looks pretty clean and sleek, like Dubai. Doha had also bid on the 2016 Summer Olympics, but they lost out (like Chicago) to the well deserved Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Though I would have liked to see Australia get the 2022 World Cup, I think Qatar will certainly be an interesting host. In fact, I can't wait for that one.

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