The World Cup in 2022 had many great storylines about on-field play. Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, are champs after a fantastic 120-minute final match against France. Morocco was the first African country to make it to the semifinals. England blew it (again). Brazil did not win. Off-field topics included the last-minute ban on alcohol sales at the matches, but the host country of Qatar also remained a talking point.
There are several issues with the host country, but all are part of a $200 billion World Cup. It started in 2009 with the country’s illegal campaign to host the World Cup using bribes, which included European Parliament members. There is the exploitation of thousands of foreign workers ostensibly hired to build the stadiums and necessary infrastructure — they worked under inhumane conditions, often weren’t paid or paid on time, and experienced a higher-than-normal death rate. There was the quashing of any political action by fans visiting the country, and Qatar officials even prohibited players from wearing an armband promoting inclusivity.
The New York Times referred to the host country as “perhaps among the most ill-suited hosts for a tournament of the scale of the World Cup, a country so lacking in stadiums and infrastructure and history that its bid was labeled “high risk” by FIFA’s evaluators.” Yet in 2010, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter read the results of ballots from 22 voting members on the executive committee and announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup.
A country with 3 million people the size of Connecticut beat out bids by the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Due to the summer heat in the host country, the event would be in November and December.
A relic of the past
The DOJ has investigated two dozen allegations of corruption involving international soccer and FIFA, with some still ongoing. The DOJ prosecutors granted FIFA victim status due to some senior officials’ unfettered corruption– Russia’s previous choice for 2018 was also the result of bribery.
Of the 22 officials who voted in the Qatar election, 15 would eventually be indicted in the US or Switzerland. They were expelled from the International Olympic Committee and other governing bodies, including FIFA’s ethics committee. To its credit, FIFA amended its criteria for selecting the host countries in 2012 as news of the bribery emerged and word spread of working conditions in Qatar.
Will it get better?
The short answer is: It must. Perfect governments or policies are still going to be hard to come by, but officials can do better. Whether conservative or liberal, host countries will get much closer scrutiny from FIFA before it makes choices about hosts. The economics is also concerning, with costs and money involved skyrocketing in recent years.
Major international sporting events have existed since the modern Olympics began in 1894. The IOC has undoubtedly had its missteps but seems quite conscious about its choices with Paris (2024), Milano Cortina (2026), Los Angeles (2028), and Brisbane (2032). All are safe choices that are up to the hosting task.
World Cup moves to joint events
FIFA also is changing for the better. The World Cup moves to North America for 2026 with an expanded 48-nation competition set in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This approach minimizes the need to build stadiums and infrastructure.
There has yet to be a decision for the host of the 2030 World Cup, which marks the tournament’s centennial. Still, early bids are also joint, with a South American bid coming from Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay and one from Spain, Portugal and Ukraine. More of this joint bidding is likely since it also allows more countries the opportunity to host since they need only handle part of the tournament, and it enables FIFA to grow the game in new places.