FIFA inspector says World Cup technical report ‘ignored,’ hints at U.S. support
The Chilean soccer executive who led FIFA’s inspection team ahead of the vote that determined the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts said Wednesday that even though his technical report was “ignored” by Executive Committee voters three years ago, the 2022 tournament should remain in Qatar.
Meanwhile, U.S. Soccer Federation president and Executive Committee member Sunil Gulati told the Leaders in Football conference that the U.S. would consider a bid to host the 2026 World Cup only if the “procedures [are] very different to what they are now.”
Speaking at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge in London, former Chilean Football Federation chief Harold Mayne-Nicholls said the ideal timing for the 2022 World Cup wasn’t the winter, when it would conflict with professional leagues across the globe as well as major sports properties like the Winter Olympics and NFL, but rather May and June.
“It could start on May 20 and finish on June 19 when it would be warm, but not like it is in the heat of July. The [UEFA] Champions League final could be on April 30,” he said, according to Reuters. “FIFA president Sepp Blatter has suggested October/November, while UEFA have proposed January and February. They all pose challenges, but Qatar won the vote to stage the finals and it should be played there. But we have to find a new time of year.”
Mayne-Nicholls also hinted that the U.S. was his preferred host back when he presented his technical report to FIFA. The American bid, headed by Gulati, promised significantly larger crowds than its competitors thanks to the size of NFL facilities. The difference in total World Cup attendance between the U.S. and Qatar might have been as high as 2 million, he said.
“Football belongs to the fans. The World Cup will not be the World Cup if fans are staying in the hotel lobby,” Mayne-Nicholls said. “We have to work with the fans in mind. It’s not a TV show. It’s a fans show.”
Of course, the American bid contained numerous technical advantages over Qatar that were obvious to all but the 14 ExCo members who voted for the tiny Gulf state. Blatter admitted recently that non-sporting issues played a role.
“Yes, definitely there was direct political influences,” he told Germany’s Die Zeit. “European leaders recommended to their voting members to vote for Qatar because they have great economic interests with this country.”
Whether influenced by politics, money or ego, the men who voted for Qatar clearly weren’t overly concerned with the country’s size, summer heat, human rights issues or allegedly abusive labor practices. Nor were they worried about focusing on the soccer. The U.S. appeal, which trumpeted top-notch facilities and popular accessibility, fell on deaf ears.
Gulati, MLS commissioner Don Garber and the rest of the American soccer establishment weren’t speaking a language that the executive committee understood.
“We politicked the only way we could, which was to run a very fair and transparent campaign that was extolling the benefits of the World Cup coming to the United States and the tremendous progress that we’ve achieved over the last couple of decades, along with the benefit to the global soccer community should we get it again,” Garber told me shortly after Qatar won the election.
“At no time, and I want to really be strong about this, did we ever consider doing any of the things that we might have heard about being done by other bidders,” Garber said. “It’s not the way Sunil wanted to run the campaign. It’s not the way that I, as the leader of this league and [Soccer United Marketing], would have agreed to participate in it, and it’s not the way the [U.S.] World Cup organizing committee would have agreed to. We have certain laws in this country that would have prohibited that from happening, and it’s not the way we operate. I would rather lose doing what we did than win if we were forced to do the things that might have been necessary to win.”
On Wednesday in London, Gulati confirmed that the U.S. wants to know the real rules of the game before it launches another bid. By the time 2026 roles around, 32 years will have passed since the most recent CONCACAF World Cup –- by far the longest wait among the five leading continental confederations. Africa will be next at just 16 years.
“It’s a unique situation that the Olympics and the World Cup have become so important to countries that nation states are now essentially bidding,” Gulati said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s no longer bid committees. That’s a very difficult situation for countries like England or the United States, frankly, which operate differently. We are not going to conduct a foreign policy based on hosting a World Cup … it’s just never going to be important.
“If the critical issue is taking it to new lands, then tell us in advance, because we won’t bother. The rules need to be clearer and tighter. And the process needs to be better. If you are stepping onto a field of play, you know what the rules are. We’d want more clarity on the bidding and the whole process. For instance, is there going to be a system of rotation, or not? This needs to be established well enough in advance so people know. Also, my personal view is that it should also be a public vote. And the technical report should matter in some concrete way, otherwise it’s an unnecessary expenditure of funds and time.”
FIFA already has made one major change in the wake of the 2018-2022 controversy. Future hosting decisions will be made by FIFA’s entire membership –- one nation, one vote –- rather than relying on just the 24-member Executive Committee (plus the FIFA president). If further reform occurs Gulati very well may be leading the charge from inside, working to create a slight silver lining to the brutal disappointment of the 2022 vote.