The resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter earlier this week opens up a whole new can of worms for World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar. Russia is scheduled to host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 Cup, but a number of analysts have opined that the odds of the decision regarding the host nation being revisited went up significantly with the resignation of Blatter.
Resignation of Blatter means a whole new ball game
Recently re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter surprised many with the announcement of his resignation yesterday. “It is my deep care for FIFA and its interests, which I hold very dear, that has led me to take this decision,” Blatter commented.
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He also noted he planned to call for “an extraordinary congress” that will be held “as soon as possible” to elect a new president. He will remain as the head of FIFA until his successor is elected.
The reasons for Blatter’s resignation are not clear, coming only days after vowing he would not step down. In his remarks on Tuesday he said he was leaving so that the organization could “to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms.” FIFA, he continued to say, “needs a profound overhaul.”
Of interest, recent media reports have linked a top Blatter aide, secretary general Jerome Valcke, with the transfer of some $10 million to an account controlled by ex-CONCACAF President Jack Warner (who was arrested in the recent sweep in Zurich). Sources say that the payment was a bribe to assist South Africa in landing the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
Keep in mind that neither Blatter or Valcke has been charged with a crime, but it certainly brings the ongoing bribery investigation to the top of FIFA’s leadership.
Analysts point out that the upcoming fight over the future of FIFA will determine the fate of Qatar and Russia’s World Cups in 2018 and 2022. For some critics, whether the tournaments go ahead or not will reflect just how serious FIFA really is about stopping corruption.
“If I was the Qatari organizers I would not sleep very well tonight,” England’s soccer chief Greg Dyke commented on Tuesday. “I think if the evidence comes out which shows the bidding processes were above board that’s fine. If it shows they were corrupt obviously the bids should be re-done. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Earlier arrests of global soccer officials
Last Wednesday, Swiss and U.S. law enforcement authorities arrested seven high-ranking FIFA officials in Zurich over allegations of racketeering and corruption of more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over the last two plus decades. There is another, separate investigation of possible bribery regarding the vote to determine who would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Financial costs of FIFA World Cups
One must also consider the financial cost . For Russia and Qatar losing the World Cup would be disastrous. Each country has staked a good part of its national prestige on the event and there are billions of dollars in investments in play. Deep in recession and struggling with Western sanctions and low oil prices, Russia expects to spend about $20 billion building infrastructure and stadiums. “The 2018 World Cup is one of the main public investment projects for the next three years,” the Bank of America in Moscow wrote in a note to analysts last Wednesday. Qatar too has banked hugely on its World Cup, and expected to spend about $200 billion over a 12-year period, including its new $17.5-billion international airport, a multibillion-dollar rapid-transit system, and giant FIFA-approved stadiums, all air-conditioned.
Qatar more likely to lose World Cup than Russia?
Cancelling Russia’s World Cup would entail fairly rushed decisions, since the tournament’s lineup of teams begins this summer. “It is too late to change it,” said Simon Johnson, a London lawyer who led England’s losing bid to host the 2018 World Cup. “But 2022 is another matter.”