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Could Qatar Lose the 2022 World Cup?

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USA TODAY

 

It seemed like a good idea in 2010, when the incumbent bureaucrats at FIFA took a few moments from their lavish lunches and first-class flights to vote for Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup.

A good idea to those guys, at least, if not to anyone else who might have been a little concerned about the capabilities of a tiny nation with a shady history of mistreating migrant workers, 120-degree temperatures and no soccer pedigree.

It doesn't seem like such a good idea now.

After overlooking trivial infractions such as illegal bribes and mass worker deaths, FIFA has found something it's actually concerned about.

Five Arab states — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Yemen — announced Monday that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, creating a giant headache for those in soccer's corridors of power. The situation escalated when the group accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region.

Several countries have recalled their citizens from Qatar and banned Qataris from entering their territory. Qatar's only land border, with Saudi Arabia, is shut.

FIFA has made contact with the Qatar organizing committee, and that is all it is saying, but the concern goes deep.

Having your host at the center of a crisis described as the worst to hit the Gulf region in decades, all because it allegedly backs some of the world's deadliest terror manifestations, is hardly an ideal starting point.

Yet FIFA, much like the International Olympic Committee, has the Teflon option of stating it is apolitical and that an event such as the World Cup can prove to be a unifying force. Shaky logic, to be sure, but effective in the past and potentially up for use again.

FIFA is all about practicalities, meaning its biggest problem would arise if such a standoff could affect the running of the tournament. In other words, if one or more of the countries to have severed political ties were to qualify into the 32-team field.

And that outcome is plausible.

Unless the crisis eases and backtracks, it would be unthinkable that the government of Saudi Arabia, which has qualified for four World Cups and is well positioned to reach next year's event, would agree to send its team to Qatar.

Egypt is the seven-time champion of Africa, which sends five teams to the World Cup. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have each qualified for one World Cup. Any or all of them could qualify, too.

FIFA members are famous for burying their heads in the sand, but this time it could be politics, of all things, that creates havoc.

Politics weren't a problem when FIFA took the World Cup to Argentina in 1978 while opponents to that country's regime were being killed and tortured in a political prison close to one of the main stadiums.

Neither were politics a problem more recently, when FIFA happily delivered soccer's biggest tournament into the corrupt hands of disgraced Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff three years ago and into the iron grip of Russia's Vladimir Putin for 2018.

The Russia event, according to multiple news reports last month, will in part be staged in a stadium built by North Korean migrant workers earning less than $10 a day.

FIFA, of course, can talk its way past things like that. For example: "FIFA is aware of and firmly condemns the often appalling labor conditions under which North Korean workers are employed in various countries around the world," FIFA President Gianni Infantino wrote in a letter dated May 22 and obtained by The Guardian.

But now, with the events in the Gulf, stuff just got serious. All those gleaming sporting palaces Qatar promised and the golden, ahem, vision it sold to the voters is seriously cloudy.

This is a tournament that should have been stripped away years ago. Now it is at a point where that might be too late. With five years to go, not many nations are equipped to step in. Given that taking such a decision would be a monumental one, FIFA almost certainly will keep its fingers crossed and let things play out.

The country most discussed as a stand-in host at short notice is the United States, but that option appears to be out the window with U.S. Soccer (combined with Canada and Mexico) going full steam ahead for 2026 hosting rights.

No, FIFA is stuck with its troubled and tarnished host, stuck with its greedy and sullied decision, stuck in a pickle of entirely its own making.

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June 6, 2017
 
 
 

 

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