Zurich: Russia and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups Thursday after an acrimonious bidding war marred by allegations of corruption and illegal deal-making.
The bombshell conclusion to two years of frenzied lobbying saw world football supremo Sepp Blatter reveal the winners following a secret ballot of 22 FIFA executive committee members in Zurich.
The announcement means the World Cup will be staged in two countries which have never hosted the event before following the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Russia prevailed in the 2018 race, upsetting England and joint bids from Spain and Portugal and Belgium and the Netherlands.
The outcome represented a stunning comeback for Russia, whose campaign had believed to be in trouble after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declined to join the lobbying effort in Zurich.
Putin had also launched a stinging attack on England’s bid on the eve of the vote, accusing the country’s media of “smearing” officials.
But the shock of the day came in the 2022 race, where Qatar beat off stiff competition from the United States, Australia and Asian rivals South Korea and Japan in a remarkable result.
Qatar 2022 bid president Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani promised: “We won’t let you down. You will be proud of us, proud of the Middle East.”
Qatar’s win came despite serious reservations being raised about the logistical problems of staging the football tournament in the Gulf during the searing heat of the summer months.
Although the Qataris have promised to build an array of state of the art stadia which are climate-controlled, the technology has never been tested on a large-scale before.
The results brought the curtain down on the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with FIFA facing myriad allegations of corruption which led to two executive commitee members being suspended.
FIFA president Blatter has acknowledged that the decision to stage votes for two tournaments at the same time was a mistake, making illegal horse-trading between bids inevitable.
An increasingly acrimonious climax to the campaign saw Spanish and Russian officials issue veiled attacks earlier Thursday as the respective bids made their final presentations to FIFA voters.
Spanish FIFA member Angel Villar Llona hit out at British media reports which exposed corruption within the organisation, describing them as “slander.”
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hit out at perceived “intrigue and blackmail” surrounding the vote.
“We stand for world sport developing according to its own laws, independent of the political environment,” Lavrov said. “And it should especially not be subject to intrigue and blackmail.”
Russian bid officials steered clear of fuelling the war of words in their final presentation earlier Thursday however, instead emphasising the country’s readiness to host the tournament for the first time.
“We are ready. Most of the infrastructure is planned and budgeted for and the World Cup will accelerate this,” bid chief Alexei Sorokin said.
England 2018 officials declined to respond to the criticism, but were left dejected after launching a heavyweight increasingly optimistic after lobbying offensive led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham.
All three men took to the stage Thursday to appeal for the tournament.
“I love football, we English love football - that’s why it would be such an honour for us to host the 2018 World Cup,” Prince William said.
However an outbreak of crowd trouble at an English League Cup match between Birmingham and Aston Villa late Wednesday embarrassed England’s bid.