How Qatar turned the World Cup into a political football
To the names Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage add Blatter, Platini, and al-Thawadi. ‘Tis the politicking season to be sure.
On the face of it Fifa‘s executive committee meeting might be about practicalities – how to move the traditionally summertime World Cup to winter, when Qatar hosts it in 2022 – and how to improve conditions for the million-plus migrant workers building Qatari citadels out of desert.
But much like the party delegates in Brighton, Bournemouth or Birmingham, everyone in football knows this week’s meeting in Zurich is politics through and through.
Big politics, little politics, real politics, fake football politics. Geopolitics. And undeniably the politics of petrocash.
Let’s track it back.
Sepp Blatter, Fifa boss and consummate puppeteer. A man who makes sure he always ends up on the winning team when the final whistle blows.
It’s said he never wanted a World Cup in Qatar – that he preferred to send it back to the USA – for a simple reason. It would make the most money. USA 1994 remains the most lucrative and successful competition Fifa has ever staged.
But blood runs thicker than water in football’s dysfunctional family, and one of Blatters chief backers when he got Fifa’s top job back in 1999 was Qatar.
And since then Qatar have been busy making friends in high places. Their chief cheerleader is Michel Platini – the current boss of Europe’s footballing top dogs Uefa. A man who wants Blatter’s job.
Cue a thinly veiled Fifa leadership wrangle typical of any party conference worth its name. Blatter vs Platini. A World Cup final in itself.
The outcome of which will ultimately be decided by by a room full of colleagues at loggerheads.
Not least the Australians, who spent $24m of public money on a bid to host the World Cup that most people accept was “bought” – Fifa’s general secretary Jerome Valcke’s words, not mine.
Australia has said it wants its money back – but not in a month of Sunday league early morning kick offs will that happen.
Then there’s the Americans, who know that they above all others had the stadia and population to get the Fifa cash tills ringing for 2022.
Even though against the heft of the NFL, NBA and MBL “soccer” is still a sport played by college kids and girls.
Nevertheless they’ve kept as dignified a silence as the situation allows and made no noises off about refunds.
Because of course also in Zurich to keep tabs on the Fifa jamboree will be the leader of Qatar’s organising committee.
Which is where the real politics come in. Qatar is, by GDP per capita, the richest country on earth. They have cash to splash and in building their nation they are buying up others.
The World Cup is as much a global medallion as mere football competition. And to tarnish Qatar’s right to wear it bare-chested is to risk telling them to go and spend their money elsewhere.
This meeting in Zurich is not just about football politics. But the real deal. And don’t Messrs Blatter, Platini et al know it.
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