As criticism of FIFA’s efforts to move the 2022 World Cup to winter continues to swell, the president of international soccer’s governing body admitted this week that European political and economic interests drove FIFA’s decision to put that World Cup in Qatar.
“Yes, there was definitely direct political influence,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter told German weekly Die Zeit, the AFP reported. “European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in the country.”
That’s quite a change in tune from Blatter, who just last week admitted that awarding the Cup to Qatar was a mistake but blamed criticism of FIFA’s decision on European delusion and ethnocentrism. Soccer federations around the world have blasted FIFA’s attempts to move the World Cup to winter to avoid Qatar’s sweltering summer heat, since doing so would interrupt the schedules of soccer leagues around the world. “I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places,” Blatter told InsideWorldFootball.com last week.
Blatter’s comments will no doubt fuel more speculation that Qatar bought off voting members to win the 2022 World Cup, but politics and economics almost surely play an outsized role in how most of these events are awarded. FIFA has attempted in recent years to take its marquee events to new areas of the world — South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, and now Qatar — and while expanding the borders of soccer has been a side effect, those events have had major benefits for FIFA and foreign investors and elites too. New countries offer new frontier for foreign investors and FIFA, primarily because they almost always demand the construction of lavish new stadiums and other related construction projects. Foreign investors have reaped huge profits by diving into Brazilian construction firms, for instance, and the design, consulting, and construction of Qatar’s stadiums is being done mostly by international firms. It was an international company headquartered in America, for instance, that originally argued that Qatari stadiums could be cooled sufficiently in the summer; it was an international management firm and American-based design consultants that won the rights to Qatar’s first stadium.
Those benefits are large: while Brazil is spending between $20 billion and $30 billion on its World Cup, Qatar is planning to spend 10 times that. Qatar’s primary competitor for the 2022 World Cup — the United States — would have provided significantly less economic interest to international investors, since the U.S. already has dozens of World Cup-ready stadiums and proposed spending virtually nothing on construction.
Was a Qatari World Cup beneficial to European political and economic elites because they were bought off by corruption, or was it beneficial because it offered investment and profit opportunities a Cup in the U.S. or another country would not have provided? The answer is unclear, though Blatter insists that FIFA is investigating corruption claims around the Qatari bidding process. What is clear, though, is that soccer is rarely if ever the driving factor in where the World Cup ends up, even when it goes to a soccer-mad country like Brazil. These events are sold to people and host countries as economically beneficial, even when they more often turn into nightmares. The real beneficiaries are investors and FIFA, which expects to bring in $4 billion in revenues from the Brazilian World Cup alone, and that is true even absent potential Qatari corruption. That political and economic considerations drive the awarding of World Cups is neither shocking nor unique to Qatar, but the country’s World Cup has turned into such a disaster that Blatter had no choice but to finally admit it.