Sport & Culture

Australian Sour Grapes?

The head of Football Federation Australia suggests the controversy over Qatar getting the World Cup isn’t over.

John Duerden

It’s now more than a year since Qatar was awarded the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, but the story isn’t over yet.

Organizers in the Middle Eastern nation may have hoped to be able to focus on preparing for the world’s biggest sporting event, but they may need all of the remaining ten years to convince the rest of the world that Qatar won fair and square.

There are still doubts being publicly expressed from people inside football – some carry the whiff of sour grapes, others may take longer to dismiss.

The tiny Gulf State overcame competition from the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan to persuade FIFA’s Executive Committee to give the region its first ever World Cup.

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The fact that a nation with a population of less than two million and summer temperatures that can reach 50 degrees Celsius, won the race hasn’t yet been fully accepted as become apparent again last week.

“I have never understood how such a small country can be awarded one of the most important sports events in the world, especially as Qatar were in last place on the grid before the decision was made,” said just departed German football federation president Theo Zwanziger.

Zwanziger is now part of the FIFA committee that made the decision, and has questioned the sporting reasons for giving Qatar the tournament.

“Political interests should not prevail if the fundamentals, the sporting conditions, have been somewhat perverted,” he added.

With corruption a common theme at FIFA during the bidding process and since – two of the 24 members on the executive committee were suspended before the vote after allegations of wrongdoing, and others have subsequently been accused – trying to convince some in the world of football that Qatar didn’t bribe its way to success could take years, if it is possible at all.

It’s even more difficult as Qatar is well-known for its deep pockets and not being afraid to splash the cash as it demonstrated during the bid itself by hiring all kinds of famous sports stars to act as ambassadors. A further $4 billion will be spent on preparing for the tournament itself.

The fact that such an outsider with so much money came from nowhere to win a bid decided by an organization as mistrusted as FIFA makes for juicy speculation.

That reached feverish levels last summer as Phaedra Almajid, who worked on the bid, declared publicly that various committee members were paid $1.5 million for their votes. She soon changed her story, admitting that she had been seeking revenge for losing her job on the campaign.

The organizers, of course deny all allegations, and the fact that there has not yet been any clear evidence of wrongdoing isn’t going to stop the critics, especially those with an axe to grind.

Frank Lowy is the chairman of Football Federation Australia. The association was fairly confident of success, yet was humiliated in Zurich where voting took place, receiving just one of the 22 votes.

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Lowy said at the end of November that he hadn’t given up hope. “I don't know whether you recall when I came back from that fateful day (after losing the bid) and I said ‘this is not the last word about awarding the World Cup.’ Well it wasn’t the last word, and the last word hasn’t been heard yet.

“Don’t ask me to elaborate because I don’t have a crystal ball…but the media all over the world talking is about that, the awarding particularly of ’22, the state of the FIFA executive committee – all that stuff. It’s not over. I don’t exactly know where it will bounce. The only thing I know is it’s not over yet.”

Talking to Al Jazeera, Jason Dasey, an Australian broadcaster who works for Malaysian television, accused Lowy of sour grapes, saying that: “When someone puts up the gossip of journalists as their strongest suit, you can be almost sure that they have nothing to go on.”

After a year, there’s still no smoking gun. Unless something changes, the World Cup is heading to Qatar in 2022.