PtG Article 06.10.2011

Sports writer: FIFA bidding process was a charade

The “most extraordinary story I ever worked on” is how sports writer James Corbett described the bidding procedure for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups. Corbett followed the process closely through his involvement with World Football Insider, an independent organisation which shadowed FIFA’s inspection process with its own rankings of the respective national bids.

The final decision to choose Russia and Qatar had little to do with the suitability of their bids, he said, and everything to do with these nations’ abilities to play by the unwritten rules.

Many national FA presidents were the “puppets of dictators” whose voting preference was never going to change, he said, regardless of the suitability of other potential hosts. Furthermore, the format of the duel bidding process meant that collusion and vote-trading were endemic.

“It was all a charade,” he told Play the Game. “The public relations campaigns of the bidding nations didn’t matter at all. The decision just rested on the 24 men on the [FIFA] executive committee”.

Bid was essentially honest

Although much has been written about alleged corruption, Corbett said he thought it was unlikely that Qatar had actually paid cash bribes.

Instead, he said, the country used its vast wealth to conclude trade deals in strategic nations with a tacit understanding that Qatar would receive their vote. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay all completed major business deals with Qatar prior to the 2010 decision being made, he pointed out, and rumours abounded that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had asked his nation’s FIFA representative, Michel Platini, to vote for Qatar.

“Public assumption has been that Russia and Qatar bribed their way to the votes,” he said. “However, the Qatar bid was essentially honest”.

“If anything, they deserve credit for playing the bidding game so well,” he said, adding that Qatar’s success was no doubt also due to the presence of an influential patron, former FIFA Executive Committee member Mohammed bin Hammam.

Several members of FIFA’s Executive Committee have since admitted they did not read all the technical reports from cover to cover, which Corbett said showed “tremendous contempt” for the bidding nations.

“Politics and self interest took precedence over football’s best interests,” he said. “We may even have to go through the whole nightmare again” before reform takes place, he added.