The World Without Us

Mmmm – look at all these big, juicy grapes! There must be enough for years! I wonder how they taste?

Before we start tossing around suggestions – and there have been some good ones – we need to get on the same page as to what actually happened.

There has been a lot of talk that the technical superiority of the England and the US bids hampered their campaigns. There has been talk that Russia and Qatar were picked because they represented new frontiers. There has been talk that England's bid was sunk by British investigative journalism.

And there has been talk that the bids went to those who gave out the biggest bribes.

Let's focus for a second on the technical aspects of the bids.

This revealing quote from Supreme Commander Sepp Blatter is a four-alarm fire – here's a link to Jeffrey Marcus quoting it:

"If we had wanted to make money, we would have gone to the United States," Blatter told L'Equipe. "We have opened new markets for the development of football, where roots may not have sprouted."

Wow – I guess it sure was silly for the US and England to come up with two bids, then. Talk about gloating about how rich and developed they are. If being able to host a profitable tournament actually hurt in the voting, then submitting a bid for each tournament, both promising huge success, was the height of arrogance.

Oh, wait, remind me again who voted – the FIFA Executive Committee, or a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate sociology class? I don't remember any excerpts from "Wretched of the Earth" in Qatar's bid.

That's what having the best technical bid meant – making the most money from the tournament. And if it's about opening a new market, then snubbing the United States is utterly incomprehensible. FIFA can't imagine that the soccer market here is saturated.

If anything, this alleged criteria fails even worse in the 2018 voting. Soccer is already the most popular sport in Russia. It's not a new market any more than Spain or Belgium. It's almost as if Sepp Blatter is looking for an excuse, instead of giving a reason.

He's not alone. Let's go back to the investigation on FIFA corruption that offended corrupt FIFA members so much. It's possible that FIFA was so deeply offended by the BBC and the Times that the best bid of the voting was snubbed. Jack Warner called it the "ultimate insult." Sure, Warner is a criminal. But he's not the only one. Junji Orguna, boss of the JFA, agreed with Warner. And he voted for England. You would think Ogura, who was bidding against Qatar, would have been angrier with the corruption than the investigation, but you'd be wrong.

Fine – so why not go to Sportugal or Betherlands? Why Russia? There's way too much blame for the best bids going around, and way too little examination of why the worst bids were picked.

"Worst bids" is not an opinion, by the way, but fact:

EDIT – bleah. Readable chart here. Basically, all the bids but two were rated low risk. Guess which two were the exceptions.

I suppose the premise that FIFA was so angry at the Sunday Times they screwed over Spain might be convincing to some, but again – these were decisions that will cost FIFA money. These were decisions that hurt the game.

How bad were these decisions? Sepp Blatter is already suggesting Qatar isn't up to the task by itself. A Persian Gulf nations co-hosting might work wonderfully – but that's not what was voted on.
Qatar will have the longest lead-time in the history of the tournament, and Blatter is making excuses for them after a week.

There's nothing to debate here anymore. The only questions now are what to do about it. If anything.

(One suggestion is to do absolutely nothing, until David Beckham is ready to run the FA. For the sake of the orphans. I'm not kidding, unless Henry Winter is.)

Here's another little aspect of the whole process to be concerned about – there's a reason that Blatter referred to it as "developing markets" rather than gaining more fans. We're heading for a post-fan society.

Let's look at the last two words of this paragraph for a second:

Anson was venting, of course, and rightly so. And maybe I'm seizing too much on what, on further reflection, is a failed metaphor (if there are no fans, what's the point of heating the stadiums?) (Oh, right, players – yeah, those guys. I hope in August 2022, after two months of desert summer soccer, that on their way back to their clubs the players stop by Zinedine Zidane's stately manor and take turns head-butting him).

We've already had some fun with Qatar's population being one-third the World Cup attendance – it's actually far worse than that. Unless you think Qatar's guest workers will get tickets.

South Africa showed you don't need atmosphere for a World Cup game. Qatar will prove you don't need fans. And for those of us who still hold hope for Brazil in four years – maybe outside the stadiums you'll find some atmosphere, but the game itself is strictly for television consumption.

But this is a danger that long predates last week's voting. Roy Keane put a name to the danger – the prawn sandwich brigade. Manchester United fans have taken a lot of abuse for that term, but the problem is that they're the opposite of fans. They're passive observers watching a reality show.

That's who the World Cup has become – an obscenely rich man's version of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." The players don't matter, the fans are actual hindrances. And it goes way beyond FIFA at this point. Any change will have to address how deeply all levels of the game have been corrupted.

Excuse me if I think David Beckham isn't up to the task.

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