Sydney: FIFA`s shock decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was met with despair in Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo today as months of campaigning ended in heartbreak and accusations of financial skullduggery.
Australia had high hopes for its bid to host the world`s biggest sporting event for the first time, while Japan and South Korea, joint hosts in 2002, put forward strong cases to hold the event independently.
But after a furious final day of lobbying in Zurich, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter announced yesterday that Qatar had won out for 2022, stunning onlookers who queried the tiny Gulf state`s searing heat and lack of footballing pedigree.
"Soccer is dead to me," Jeremy Tom, 26, told AFP at a gathering of about 100 diehard Australian fans watching the vote on a big screen on the shores of Sydney Harbour in the middle of the night.
"What a rort (scam). Who goes to Qatar to watch the world game? It`s a joke."
Football Federation Australia`s Jack Reilly said its bid had fallen victim to FIFA politics and Qatar`s deep pockets.
"The Qatar delegation have been pushing money around for a long period of time," he said.
The Australian government contributed 45 million dollars (44 million US) towards the bid, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the entire nation was "disappointed".
Qatar insisted that its bid had won on the merits of a bold proposal to build climate-controlled stadia that will enable players and fans to be comfortable in its desert heat.
But team leaders from Japan and South Korea also vented frustration at the event being handed to the Gulf kingdom, which has never played in the World Cup.
"I don`t quite understand what factor is favorable," Japan`s Football Association vice chairman Kuniya Daini said. "Maybe, it is meaningful to host it in the Middle East for the first time?"
The bidding race, which also saw Russia secure the 2018 tournament, was the most controversial in FIFA history with allegations of corruption against high-level football executives.
"Qatar, which has never qualified for the World Cup finals, had a weapon in its abundant financial resources based on oil money," top-selling Japanese business daily Nikkei said.
Japan vowed to fight on, but knows that it faces a daunting battle if rival Asian power China goes ahead with plans to bid for the 2026 tournament. FIFA is keen to tap the giant potential market of China`s 1.3 billion people.
"My personal determination to bid for the World Cup has not changed, but we must further research when to make a bid," Friday`s edition of the Titan Sports Weekly quoted China`s top football boss Wei Di as saying.
Japan had emphasised its bid with a six-billion-dollar plan to allow 360 million people worldwide to watch matches live in 3D telecasts at nearly 400 specially selected stadiums across FIFA`s 208 member countries.
But the Asahi Shimbun commented: "There were (FIFA) executives who thought real stadia are more important."
South Korea reached the third round of voting before being eliminated, with analysts suggesting it was too soon after Seoul co-hosted the 2002 tournament.
In their final presentation to FIFA delegates, South Korea`s bid team said hosting the World Cup would act as a gateway to reunification of the divided Korean peninsula.
The region is enduring the worst tensions in years at present after nuclear-armed North Korea hurled a deadly artillery barrage onto a South Korean border island.
But the bidders` plea for football to help bring about a brighter political future fell on deaf ears.
"We`d expected to meet either the US or Australia in the final round," the head of Seoul`s bid Han Sung-Joo was quoted by South Korea`s Yonhap news agency as saying.
"It seems as though the idea of giving the Middle East its first World Cup garnered a lot of votes (for Qatar)."
South Korean netizens blamed North Korea for igniting a crisis at the worst possible time.
One saw the power of oil money. "Korean electronics companies should get ready for the bid to provide air conditioners to Qatar," the commentator said sarcastically.