Ambitious FIFA taps into new territories, new money
Zurich: Awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar sees FIFA continue to expand soccer`s horizons while tapping into huge financial resources, and the will to spend them, at a time of global economic uncertainty.
The 22 members of FIFA`s executive committee chose Russia over rival bids from Spain/Portugal, Netherlands/Belgium and England for 2018 and Qatar ahead of the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia for the subsequent tournament.
Rejecting familiar territories England, hosts of soccer`s showpiece in 1966, Spain (1982), the U.S. (1994) and South Korea and Japan (2002 co-hosts) and going to Eastern Europe and the Middle East for the first time sees FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter continue a modern mission.
After FIFA secured a first World Cup for Asia in 2002, Blatter desperately wanted to take the tournament to Africa in 2006.
In the end he had to wait, as Germany pulled off an electoral coup to snatch the rights to 2006 from his favoured South Africa, but not for long as he pressed ahead and was able to see a first African World Cup staged successfully this year.
Brazil will host the next tournament in 2014, representing a return to South America for the first time since 1978 and a visit to one of the fastest growing economies.
Oil-producing Russia, like Brazil, is part of the "BRIC" group of emerging nations who are becoming ever more important players in global financial terms, while economic growth in gas-rich Qatar has come at a similarly heady speed.
Blatter, of course, was eager to put the decisions in terms of expansion.
"Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world have been waiting for a long time so I`m a happy president when we talk about the development of football," Blatter said after opening the envelopes with the winners` names in Zurich.
Critics of FIFA, and there are many, will say the decision was all about the money but it should be noted that in the McKinsey report commissioned on projected revenue Russia scored bottom of the 2018 bidders and Qatar second to last of the five 2022 candidates.
There had been speculation in the build-up to this week`s events in Zurich that FIFA might be in the mood to choose safe options after running risks for so long but not a bit of it, as the executive committee chose two energy producing countries in the mood to splash some cash.
Russia proposed in its bid document to FIFA a massive project of stadium construction and renovation, with proposals for 16 stadiums, 13 of them new, at a cost of $3.82 billion -- the largest figure among the four European bidders.
Qatar plans to renovate three stadiums and build nine new ones at a cost of $3 billion including the climate-control technology that will be needed to keep the temperature on the pitch to 27 degrees Celsius while outside it is a scorching 50 degrees.
So after 68 years of only staging the World Cup in the Americas and Western Europe, FIFA has broadened the footprint of the world`s most popular sport to Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and at a breakneck speed.
There will not be another vote for a World Cup until around 2020, or perhaps a couple of years earlier.
The rule that stops World Cups going to the same continent in consecutive editions mean it could not go to China, India or Australia, which recently joined the Asian Confederation, for example.
Many will expect FIFA to turn back to the heartlands of Europe or perhaps to give the United States another chance but on recent evidence it would be unwise to make too many assumptions.
A Caribbean World Cup anyone?