AND WE THOUGHT THE DAMN VUVUZELAS WERE A PROBLEM…
What to make of Brazil’s issues heading into World Cup 2014 and why we shouldn’t be terribly optimistic for future World Cup locations
Sunil Gulati, President of the US Soccer Federation and member of the FIFA Executive Committee, was recently interviewed on the “Men in Blazers” soccer podcast. The highlight of the interview of course came when he discussed the location selections for the World Cup going forward and whether the US would be considered in the future. His answer was interesting: basically, the selection committee needs to decide if it wants new locations, proper infrastructure, or something in between.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa represented the first time the tournament was hosted by an African nation. South Africa also poured a great deal of money into building unanimously praised stadiums. The main concern going into the 2010 tournament was the crime around the country, but impressive security efforts minimized this worry and the tournament went on without any real issues (vuvuzelas aside).
Heading into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the problems have been well-documented and of real concern. Unlike South Africa, the security questions are not general – the threats are directed at the tournament. Demonstrators took to the streets this past summer during the 2013 Confederations Cup (a sort of soft opening for the World Cup), to protest the World Cup being held in Brazil. The central objection is that the economy is so bad in Brazil that it is unacceptable to pour money into the tournament (and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics for that matter) instead of education and infrastructure.
Words like “tear gas” and “riot” are not what FIFA want to hear less than a year away from its biggest stage. Nor do FIFA officials want to hear about the deaths or delays associated with the construction of the stadiums in Brazil (FIFA’s questionable priorities aside). The death toll on stadium construction sites is currently at five people, with the latest tragedy occurring at the stadium in Manaus, where the US is scheduled to play Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugual team on June 22nd. Lately, FIFA seems more concerned over the construction schedule. The organization has put a strict deadline on the progress in Curitiba, threatening to strip the city of its host status if construction is not punctually completed.
Six months from opening kickoff at the world’s most watched sporting event, and FIFA clearly does not have a hold of the situation.
Hopefully, FIFA stepping in, even at this late date, will force the hand of the management companies in charge of the oversight to ensure that everything runs smoothly from here on out. These problems only reinforce the concerns about the selection of the host nations going forward. While the unease about Russia in 2018 is more of a wait-and-see situation, pending the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has led to more questions than FIFA officials can handle.
Qatar won the bid for the 2022 World Cup, an announcement that was met with suggestions of suspicious voting process at best and blatant accusations of corruption at worst. Whichever way Qatar bought won the bid there remain real problems with hosting the tournament in the small Middle Eastern nation. For one, human rights abuses seem to be a problem. Shockingly, 185 immigrant workers were allegedly killed by brutal working conditions on soccer stadium construction sites. As with any other fresh story, the soccer community will have to wait to see what develops from the investigation, but this has the potential to be yet another black eye for FIFA. With construction deaths in Brazil in recent memory, lack of oversight leading to human rights abuses would be devastating for FIFA’s governance and decision-making going forward. Perhaps the well-documented problems with stadium construction could motivate FIFA to implement a better oversight system. Even so, these reports will only lead to more questions for FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
The problem that cannot be solved with supervision is the Qatari climate. The summer heat, capable of reaching 105°F, would be an issue for both players and fans – especially in light of the heat issues at the 2014 Australian Open. Both the Qatari response – air-conditioned stadiums – and FIFA’s first-glance response – a winter World Cup – are equal parts unrealistic and impractical. Air-conditioned stadiums and fan villages seem like a really bizarre flying car pipe dream that probably shouldn’t be given much credence until they actually build one. The winter World Cup proposal, however, was a very sobering suggestion. If that were FIFA’s decision, it would be difficult to know how the soccer federations in Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France (and every other major and minor European league) would coordinate putting their season(s) on hold to accommodate. For now, FIFA has punted the issue, agreeing not to discuss it until after the 2014 World Cup. Tackling one problematic World Cup location at a time seems to be the strategy for now.
Going forward, the US and other nations that are realistically prepared to host such an event will have to attempt to wade through the sketchy FIFA political waters to see the tournament held in their country. In the meantime, the US Men’s national team and other world soccer powerhouses will venture to these ill-prepared host countries to participate in the world’s greatest tournament, but FIFA’s governance under Sepp Blatter will remain suspect.
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