Gavin O’Brien: „The Controversy of the 2018 World Cup Bid“
The 2018 Russia World Cup is currently under way with the some of the best teams in the world duking it out on the field to prove who the best team truly is. The World Cup has been very eventful, and although there are always favorites predicted to win, the results of recent matches such as Mexico’s 1-0 victory over former title holder Germany or Russia’s victory in penalty shootout over Spain have aroused upsets that no one saw coming.
Blog by Gavin O’Brien, Intern at Transparency International Czech Republic | source: TI
Leading up to the 2018 World Cup, there was considerable resentment regarding the Russian snag of the World Cup bid and many allegations were made claiming that the bid was obtained under corrupt bidding practices. Accusations against Russia stemmed from the sentiment that Russia was unqualified to host the World Cup; especially compared to the other countries contending for the bid (which include Russia, England, and joint bids from Belgium & Netherlands and Spain & Portugal).
Russia is not well known for their football prowess, failing to even qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Furthermore, FIFA originally rated Russia’s bid as one of the riskiest choices for operational considerations because it did not have a conducive infrastructure for hosting the World Cup; it had a sheer lack of acceptable football stadiums and did not have the accommodation or transportation capacity to host the large influx of people that would come to see the World Cup.
Therefore, considering the recent scandal involving several FIFA executives and Russia’s complete turn-around, many were dubious about the legality of the methods Russia employed to secure the bid.
An art piece for your vote
In light of the allegations, the then Chief Ethic’s Investigator of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Michael J. Garcia, launched a two year investigation into the bidding practices of many of the countries active in the bidding process, with focus on Russia and Qatar. While the allegations against Russia were bountiful, Garcia narrowed his investigative scope to four allegations: that FIFA council member, Michel D’Hooghe, accepted a work of art in exchange for his vote for the Russian bid; that the Russian Bid Committee attempted to unduly influence FIFA council member Amos Adamu’s vote by funding development programs in Nigeria; that FIFA council member, Franz Beckenbauer, entered into a contract with a Russian gas company in exchange for his vote for the Russian bid; and Lord Triesman’s claims that there was collusion between Russian and Spanish bids. Additionally, the report investigates the curious fact that all of the computers used by the Russian Bid Committee were conveniently destroyed.
Garcia submitted his 350-page report of the World Cup bidding process to the FIFA Ethics Committee in September of 2014, evaluating the bidding practices of the six countries vying for the 2018 bid as well as the ones involved in the 2022 bid. In response, FIFA’s head of adjudication on ethical matters, Hans-Joachim Eckert, submitted a shortened 42-page summary of the report that cleared Russia and Qatar of all allegations.
The media declared the meager summary a “white wash” and Garcia soon retired from the FIFA Ethics Committee in retaliation, claiming that the summary was “materially incomplete”. FIFA would not publish the full report until 2017, but they only did so because they were pressured to after the report was secretly leaked to a German newspaper, “Bild”.
Cancelled friendly match
Once released, the report revealed a surprising amount of shady bidding practices carried about by a significant number of countries. While many of the reported infractions were minor, the report showed how widespread faulty bidding practices are. Perhaps one of the more unexpected offenders was England which, in one instance, planned a friendly match with Thailand eight days the bid vote was to occur, but they cancelled once it was made clear that the Thailand was not going to vote for England.
Although such activity does not seem that significant in the grand scheme of things, even the smallest violations should not be condoned because left unchecked, illegitimate bidding practices will continue to develop and spread until they completely destroy the legitimacy of the World Cup and the countries involved.
A prime example of this point is personified through Qatar, whose faulty bidding practices were severe enough that people are questioning whether their 2022 World Cup bid should be revoked. The evaluation of Russia, however, suspiciously cleared the 2018 bid holder of all allegations, painting them as the picture of perfection. Considering the ubiquitous nature of improper bidding practices of nearly all of the countries involved and the severity of the convincing allegations made against them, it is doubtful that Russia was the outlier that kept their practices completely legitimate.
Even though Russia has been cleared, there are still too many instances of countries taking part in coercive activity to help their chances of securing a bid and the repercussions enforced are underwhelming.
Watching the Game vs Watching the practices behind it
It is paramount for us as spectators to keep corrupt bidding practices in check for a number of reasons. The first is that FIFA will not keep themselves accountable (as we have seen in the past); FIFA has a monopoly on the World Cup and will continue to abuse bidding practices to line their pockets rather than give the World Cup to countries who genuinely deserve it.
While there is much that goes into who should receive future bids, it should never merely come down to who can pay the most, for many capable countries will continue to lose out on potential bids simply because they do not have the clout or resources. Additionally, the countries that win bids through corrupt practices are likely to be corrupt in other aspects as well. If they succeed in getting what they want through corruption then they will continue to endorse corrupt activity and create more problems surrounding the sport.
For example, subsequent to Russia and Qatar winning the World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 despite the many corruption allegations against them, both countries were also investigated for inhumane practices used to build their stadiums, forcing workers to work under nearly slave-like conditions.
It’s not just about football
Lastly, if we do not keep corruption surrounding the World Cup in check, not only will the integrity of football be compromised, it will also open the door for such corrupt practices to spread to other sports around the world.
With all of this in mind, I leave you with an important question to ponder – how far will we let coercive activity and illegitimate bidding practices go unchecked before we acknowledge them for the corrupt actions that they are and penalize them as such?
The author is Gavin O’Brien, Intern at Transparency International Czech Republic.
The biggest upset of the 2018 World Cup however, is not held by the diehard fans that live and breathe the sport. It is held by the other countries that contended for the bid to host the highly esteemed tournament and lost to one of the least likely candidates, Russia.