It’s too late to take away World Cup rights from Russia and Qatar
The corruption investigations into Fifa’s awarding of the World Cup to Russia, South Africa and Qatar will go some way to ushering in a new era of reforms for the governing body for soccer. Putting on hold the bidding process for the 2026 event was therefore not only prudent, but necessary. No matter how much wrongdoing is found, though, it is too late to take away the rights already given. Instead, the findings of the inquiries should be used to lay down new rules to make the future process as transparent and robust as possible.
American and Swiss investigations were revealed last month after years of allegations that bribery and corruption were involved in the awarding of the World Cup. Governance reforms undertaken by Fifa in 2011 were not seen as going far enough, prompting the involvement of outside law-enforcers. The arrests of 14 people, seven of them Fifa officials, and the resignation of president Sepp Blatter, who is now also under investigation, herald the beginning of what the outgoing leader has called a “profound restructuring”. Only this way can the world’s most popular sport be scandal-free.
Finding out whether kickbacks were involved in giving the prestigious competition to South Africa in 2010 will help, as will laying bare the wins for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. There is no bigger sporting event and billions of dollars are spent by sponsors and on broadcasting rights, so those intent on illicit gains would naturally be drawn to the bidding process. The Qatari victory five years ago in particular raised questions, especially given its unfavourable climate for many foreign soccer players. But even if massive wrongdoing is found, it is impractical to give it to other countries.
Russian plans are too well advanced and finding a replacement host at short notice would be difficult. Qatar has already spent heavily on stadium construction and legal wrangling is likely should its bid be rescinded; that would take years to settle. Television is the backbone of World Cup funding and broadcasters would not accept the uncertainty of such a battle. Best then, to investigate and learn lessons.
The huge amounts needed to finance the operations of globalised soccer and the events it stages are a draw for criminals and gamblers. Faith in Fifa will be restored only after its governance is made more transparent through far-reaching reforms. The cloud of scandal will dissipate only after corrupt officials and bribe-takers have been caught and punished.