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Despite a full day to absorb the fact that Russia and Qatar will respectively host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, English and American media continues to suffer from indigestion today.
Mail Online from the UK has a report indicating that England may never bid to host the World Cup again. Linked to the piece are outright allegations that Russia is a ‘mafia state’ and that their country is ‘ruled by crooks, thugs and spies.’
To drive the point home in the originally cited piece, the Mail uses an undated picture of Red Square where Russians are seemingly indifferent about the World Cup, while in contrast a recent photo depicts the English as they ‘braved the cold near Tower Bridge’ awaiting the bad news. Apparently, the English handle the cold better than Russians – or so the Mail will have you believe.
Godfrey: Cup Decisions No Surprise
The U.S. may have a bigger gripe than England about their loss to Qatar. After all, with soccer being of little importance in that country, American media didn’t declare an all-out war on FIFA unlike the English, who truly did themselves in.
That being said, America’s fourth round defeat in voting to Qatar did not sit well with many, who are now parroting the anti-FIFA line as per their English cousins. Yesterday, I took issue with Grant Wahl’s Sports Illustrated piece about ‘petrodollars’ (as if an American can genuinely malign petrodollars); but that line of reasoning continued today with one columnist in the New York Daily News calling FIFA ‘stupid or corrupt or both.’
The problems with the Russian and Qatar bids are too numerous to count for some. There is even doubt that these oil-rich countries have the proper funds or ability to create wondrous monuments to the beautiful game on tundra or sand. Qatar in particular made promises to build stadiums that are still a product of a wonderful imagination.
Moreover, critics are rightfully irked by a lack of free media in Russia and human rights issues in the Arab world.
These are valid complaints. Russia’s open hostility toward critical media to the point of state-suspected murder should be sickening to anyone that loves freedom and democracy.
Qatar’s reputation as a port for human trafficking is disturbing to say the least. Furthermore, its laws are rarely enforced to protect foreign workers from developing nations that suffer severe exploitation through forced labour.
But as Gabriele Marcotti points out, perhaps as a response to Wahl’s piece on SI, a host country’s record on freedoms and rights matter little when it comes to making sporting decisions. After all, China hosted the Beijing Olympics within months of cracking down on Tibetan monks.
Yes, your state can bash a monk’s head against stone and still host the world for a joyous celebration of athletic achievement. It’s been done and people need to get over it. If human rights were a qualifier for landing major sporting events, then not a single World Cup bid at FIFA’s table would be accepted. Not one.
Events like the World Cup and Olympics are about looking ahead, not at crimes of the past or even present, for that matter. Should the Iraq War and all of its reported crimes automatically disqualify the U.S. and England from bidding? No. The same goes for Russia and Qatar and their political shortcomings.
One positive aspect of large international events is that it forces countries to be on their best behaviour – or as best as possible – due to increased scrutiny from the outside world in the years leading up to the occasion. It sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t to the full extent of humanity’s hope, but the net result is rarely negative.
Two important facets of the 2018 and 2022 decisions, despite some detestable features of Russia and Qatar – both in terms of logistics and politics – is the broader picture they represent.
The first ever World Cup in Eastern Europe signals a validation of the European Union as it continues to expand further east. While Russia is not a member of that organization, many Russians ‘feel’ European and want that to be acknowledged and reciprocated. It’s not a surprise that England, a country that has always remained suspicious of the EU or anything east of Berlin for that matter, can’t quite appreciate Russia’s growing significance.
The first ever World Cup in a Muslim country, a wealthy and quasi-liberal one at that (you are not going to do much better at present), might represent something bigger to nearly 1.6 billion adherents of Islam. Many Asian Muslims may now feel they are a part of one of the west’s most exclusive clubs as there isn’t a bigger metaphorical bridge on the planet than the World Cup. It’s understandable that some Americans, residents of a country with a penchant for unilateral foreign policy, are annoyed by this sort of diplomacy by FIFA in reaching out to Qatar.
FIFA’s decisions are not ‘stupid,’ it could be rather calculated. There may be some corruption and collusion, but their process is at least more thought out than say, calling a local baseball final between two American cities the ‘World Series,’ for example.
Asif Hossain is a digital online producer, occasional TV presenter and regular contributor to GOLTV.ca and TorontoFC.ca.