Money not merit, football not fantasy

Philippe Desmazes/AFP

The winner to organise the 2022 FIFA World Cup is…  Qatar!

Disappointment, sadness, anger, loss, bewilderment – all feelings and emotions. But the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid was never about what we feel, only what’s best for FIFA and the game of football. At the very least, what the Executive Committee (ExCo) members believe to be in the interests of the governing body and development of the game.

Allegations of bribery and corruption seem fairly justified.  There is no transparency at FIFA.  But, who’s going to take on a body more powerful than the United Nations?  Sepp Blatter is a clever politician.  The main threat to his presidency is Mohamed Bin Hammam, Asia’s top dog.  The word on the street is, Bin Hammam recommended Blatter award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar or he would challenge his presidency at the FIFA Congress in 2011.  Any coincidence that Bin Hamman is a Qatari?

What’s staggering though is that Qatar received 11 votes in the first round.  A country that has never qualified for a World Cup, has climate issues, challenging social views and a ‘pack-it-all-up’ when it’s done mentality.  Australia were eliminated with an unimaginable, single vote.  The funding, the resources, the politicking, the emotional energy, the creativity – all for one vote.  Frank Lowy and his bid team must be beside themselves.  One vote, just think about that for a minute.

So, the question will now be asked.  Why?  A naysayer will point the finger at the bid team.  This is not entirely fair.  Australia had much to prove to FIFA, more than the people back home understood.  Above all, Australia had to convince the ExCo members that there was significant economic gain to be derived and perhaps more obviously, that Australia has embraced football.  Australia has clearly not.

The Australian people didn’t back the bid with enough gusto – only 332,788 people (approx. 1.5% of the population) registered on the official bid website.  All the scarves, shirts and hats just didn’t cut it in the end.  22 men with an average age of around 55 years have seen it all before.  Sure, the ExCo members would have spoken highly of Australia’s geography, picturesque scenery, spectacular climate and enviable social standards but the World Cup isn’t just about tourism.

When watching Australia’s bid presentation, it was glaringly obvious that the message was about giving the nation a go – as a “safe pair of hands”.  By riding on the success of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and other more localised sporting achievements (none of which involved football) it failed.  Where was the grassroots football?  Where was Johnny Warren?  Where were the heroes from ’74, the images of the fans after John Aloisi’s penalty triumph?

One could argue, as Lowy did,  that there was an opportunity to “turbo charge” the game in a country in need of an injection.  One which by 2022, would have had enough time to grow in a region (Asia) also undergoing immense growth – both economically and in football terms.  The whispers of a China 2026 bid obviously were more than whispers.

FIFA’s message to Australia is clear: your people are great but they don’t get football – yet.  The civil war between football codes did nothing to help the bid.  With the kind of technology available today, information is instant and viral.  AFL, league and union loyalists felt threatened, ignoring the national interest.  Rumours of AFL club board members throwing parties to celebrate the bid decision, do nothing to ease the minds of football fans.

No country does tall-poppy syndrome quite like Australia.  This lack of “discipline and respect” for football (words mentioned by Blatter to be of fundamental importance during his pre-announcement speech) hindered the bid process.  Not even the Australian Government could do anything to hide this fact.

Australians were not robbed of the tournament, nor was it something one country “deserves” over another.  FIFA made a decision based on money and football, not merit and fantasy.  It may not be honest, ethical or fair.  Qatar may not do “fun” like Australia but their plans and bid presentation were very slick.  Good luck to them and the Middle East.

It may be 2034 before Australia gets to host a World Cup (assuming it goes to China in 2026).  It might still be a Lowy who delivers the tournament to the nation but in all probability, not Frank.  Everyone in the country should thank him for his networking, business nous, passion and dedication in trying to bring the world game to Australia.  The bid team made some strategic errors but as it turns out, it didn’t really matter.

Football is still football, time will tell.

One Response to Money not merit, football not fantasy

  1. Jim says:

    I felt the same way about my nation’s bid. The American bid made no mention of the fact that the first person to score a hat-trick in a World Cup game was an American. That our domestic knock-out cup dates to 1914. That Oneida Football Club were playing an early variant of the game on Boston Common in 1862. That in St. Louis, the middle of American football country, high school games sell out. Not much of this is known outside the US (and hell, inside the US). So we got the same “you’re not ready yet” attitude you received.

    We shouldn’t have even been competing. Europe does not need to hold the Cup every other cycle. They have the world’s best leagues already and the European Championships, a tournament comparable to the World Cup itself in terms of quality. 2018 and 2022 should have been given to Australia and the United States (in whichever order, doesn’t matter).

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