FIFA’s shock decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was met with despair in Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo yesterday 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.
However, after a furious final day of lobbying in Zurich, Switzerland, FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced on Thursday that Qatar had won out for 2022, stunning onlookers who queried the tiny Persian Gulf state’s searing heat and lack of soccer pedigree.
“Soccer is dead to me,” Jeremy Tom, 26, told reporters 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.
Qatar insisted that its bid had won on the merits of a bold proposal to build climate-controlled stadiums that will enable players and fans to be comfortable in its desert heat.
However, team leaders from Japan and South Korea also vented frustration at the event being handed to the Persian Gulf kingdom, which has never played in the World Cup.
“I don’t quite understand what factor is favorable,” Japan 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’s history with allegations of corruption against high-level soccer executives.
“Qatar, which has never qualified for the World Cup finals, had a weapon in its abundant financial resources based on oil money,” Japanese business daily Nikkei Shimbun said.
Japan had emphasized its bid with a US$6 billion plan to allow 360 million people worldwide to watch matches live in 3D telecasts at almost 400 specially selected stadiums across FIFA’s 208 member countries.
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 after North Korea hurled a deadly artillery barrage onto a South Korean island last week.
“It seems as though the idea of giving the Middle East its first World Cup garnered a lot of votes [for Qatar],” the head of Seoul’s bid Han Sung-joo was quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency as saying.
“Korean electronics companies should get ready for the bid to provide air conditioners to Qatar,” a South Korean netizen commentator said sarcastically.