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Blog 16: Our man in Qatar!

Has the World Cup sold itself?

The tournament is the greatest sporting event on the planet – watched by more worldwide than any other event, ever. And for that reason, its value is enormous.

People can be corrupt, the game itself isn’t. Chuck Blazer, the US member of the FIFA executive, Michel Platini, the UEFA President who made the 2010 award of the competition finals in 2018 to Russia and in 2022 to Qatar demonstrated that corruption is endemic in FIFA, an organisation that awards the event to the highest bidder. Money talks, it was and will be always so. Some countries sit on giant gas fields; others really don’t. If you’re in doubt watch ‘FIFA Uncovered’ on Netflix.

The 2002 finals were hosted by South Korea, a nation fanatical about football, and when South Korea reached the semi-final to be beaten by Germany, they demonstrated that football really does matter. The South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung, said that the day was the most important in the country’s history, had made the nation happier since the nation’s founding by Dan Gun founded the country in 2033BC.

On beating Argentina this week, Saudi Arabia announced a national holiday. Football clearly matters.

Yet sometimes it matters too much. In 1994 Colombia were knocked out by the USA with Andres Escobar scoring an own goal. Ten days later after returning to Colombia, Escobar was shot 6 times by a Medellin drug cartel gangster. His funeral was attended by 120,000 people and for how a man can be killed for kicking a ball I recommend the excellent documentary ‘The Two Escobars’ on Netflix

Politically the hosting of the World Cup in fascist Italy in 1934, in fascist Argentina in 1978 (the country was run by a military junta responsible for the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 Argentinians), in Russia in 2018 after their occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea, and in Qatar today when thousands have died to build the infrastructure to host the finals, can all be criticised. Yet wherever the World Cup is held it presents an opportunity to hold a mirror to the host nation and expose it for what it is.

Looking ahead to 2026 when the USA, Mexico, and Canada will host the World Cup, we will see a very different competition. The first world cup had 16 teams; this world cup has 32 teams.

In 2026 there will be 48 teams.

A bloated World Cup seems unnecessary because it’s the quality of the football at the highest level that matters most to the fan. What matters most to FIFA is the expected additional $2billion in revenues that 48 (of the 211 FIFA associated nations making FIFA bigger than the United Nations) nations will guarantee smaller nations having a better opportunity to grow their game at home by qualification for the finals. It is certainly better than a World Cup every 2 years which is what Infamy Infantino wanted. Yet the format of the competition must change to accommodate 48 teams. Gone are groups of 4 nations with the top two qualifying for the knockout stages, more likely is that there will be 16 groups each one of 3 nations, with the top nation qualifying for the knockout stage. This presents the very real risk of collusion between nations, as they will know what result they must achieve in their final game of qualifying….but that won’t bother FIFA.


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