Russia and Qatar to host World Cup

Posted on by SoccerPunter

Russia and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar scored stunning victories in the battle for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Thursday after an acrimonious bidding war tainted by allegations of corruption.

In a historic conclusion to two years of frenzied lobbying, world football chief Sepp Blatter revealed the surprise winners following a secret ballot of 22 FIFA executive committee members in Zurich.

The announcement means the World Cup will be staged in two countries which have never hosted the event before following the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Russia prevailed in the 2018 race after upsetting England – who were knocked out in the first round of voting after mustering a mere two votes – and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands.

The outcome represented an unexpected comeback for Russia, whose campaign had believed to be in trouble after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declined to join the lobbying effort in Switzerland.

Putin, who was to travel to Zurich later Thursday, also launched a stinging attack on England’s bid on the eve of the vote, accusing the country’s media of “smearing” FIFA officials.

Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said FIFA would not regret handing the sporting showpiece to his country after being handed the World Cup by Blatter following announcement of the result.

“You have entrusted us with the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and I can promise, we all can promise, you will never regret it,” Shuvalov said.

But the shock of the day came in the 2022 race, where Qatar beat off stiff competition from the United States, Australia and Asian rivals South Korea and Japan in a remarkable result.

Qatar 2022 bid president Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani said his country’s victory had defied the odds.

“We started off being written off, being the unconventional bid. And no one thought we had a chance to win,” he said.

“On behalf of millions living in the Middle East, thank you FIFA for having such bold vision. We have a date with history which is summer 2022.”

Qatar’s win came despite serious reservations being raised by a FIFA technical report about the logistical problems of staging the football tournament in the Gulf during the searing heat of the summer months.

Although the Qataris have promised to build an array of state of the art stadia which will keep players and fans in a cool, climate-controlled environment, the technology has never been tested on a large scale before.

Al-Thani dismissed concerns about the climate as “misconceptions” however.

“One of the most important misconceptions was that Qatar cannot do it because it is too hot,” he said.

Yet it seems Qatar, who have never played in a World Cup, will have its work cut out convincing sceptical fans of its worthiness to host the tournament.

Even US President Barack Obama, who had recorded a personal appeal in support of the beaten American bid, criticised the FIFA ruling.

“I think it was the wrong decision,” Obama told reporters in Washington.

Dejected Australian fans in Sydney were more forthright.

“Soccer is dead to me,” Jeremy Tom, 26, told AFP. “What a rort (scam). Who goes to Qatar to watch the world game? It’s a joke.”

Thursday’s results brought the curtain down on one of the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with FIFA facing myriad allegations of corruption which led to two executive committee members being suspended.

An ill-tempered climax to the campaign saw Spanish and Russian officials issue veiled attacks on England earlier Thursday as the respective bids made their final presentations to FIFA voters.

Spanish FIFA member Angel Villar Llona attacked British media reports which exposed corruption within the organisation, describing them as “slander.”

England 2018 officials were left dejected after a heavyweight lobbying offensive led by Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham had little effect.

“According to FIFA we had the best technical team, no one could identify any risks of coming to England. I think we had the strongest commercial bid and the country is passionate about football,” Cameron told reporters.

“But it turns out that’s not enough.”

Adding insult to injury, it later emerged England had been eliminated in the first round of voting.

“What did we expect? FIFA, as far as I’m concerned, is full of people who say ‘yes’ to your face and ‘no’ behind your back,” former England manager Graham Taylor told BBC radio. “England have little or no influence.”

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