Qatar’s World Cup rigged, but what about Russia’s?

By now everyone knows that Qatar won the right to host the World Cup in 2022. Everyone knows, however, for all the wrong reasons.

I think I'll go shopping today...I hear there's a fire sale on World Cups!

I think I’ll go shopping today…I hear there’s a fire sale on World Cups!

The messiness that engulfs Qatar’s bid has been littering the news lately. First the unbearable summertime weather was red flagged (an Ecuadorian footballer died in the Qatari league last July). Next, a slew of modern-day slavery charges were made. Meanwhile, bribery accusations are not going away, while the momentum for a re-vote gains traction daily. In fact, the media blitz in the UK is so constant that until two days ago my girlfriend mistakenly thought Qatar was hosting this World Cup (she is not much of a sports fan, clearly).

The Qatar games are actually eight years away, yet it appears impossible that the 2022 World Cup will follow its original blueprint. Something’s bound to give.

But ask any random passer by who’s hosting the next World Cup – the one taking place in just four years — and you’re likely to be met with blank stares (an Australian friend who does follow football guessed South Africa; a terrible guess as they just hosted the last one).

It seems odd that the casual fan doesn’t realize Russia is hosting straight after Brazil, since the ammo to bombard its games with negative press is as loaded as Qatar’s.

You want graft and corruption? Russia’s recent Sochi Winter Olympics were branded by The New Yorker as “the greatest financial boondoggle in the history of the Games,” citing embezzlement in construction as reasons why its budget ran from $12 billion up to an unheard of $50 billion.

Corruption is so prevalent in seemingly every major global tournament now that even Fifa’s 96-year-old honorary president, a Brazilian, was thrown out for taking kickbacks last year. Accusations, it would appear, are pointless.

“International sports couldn’t even exist without bribery,” said veteran sports journalist Michael Wilbon on ESPN. “And this started with the Olympic movement. That’s why they had all those reforms, none of which [stuck].  So I’ve always assumed there was some bribery. Why would the World Cup be any different from the Olympics?”

His colleague Tony Kornheiser was equally blasé about the Qatar allegations, dismissing the notion of recasting the vote: “In terms of bribery, the entire world other than [the US] and about five other countries bribes everybody all the time. I’m not going to throw them out because of bribery.”

Bribery, check. Onto human rights abuses. The exposés on Qatar’s migrant worker deaths, alongside the news of a French footballer who was denied the right to leave for two years, have added fuel to the fire that Qatar is an unfit potential host.

Yet not a peep has been mentioned about the Russian Federation’s recent annexation of a big slab of Ukraine, or the constant jailing of opposition leaders, not to mention the two year imprisonment of the punk band Pussy Riot.

And in terms of football fandom, Russians have a much darker stain on their hands than Qataris: a pattern of racist behavior. Last October, Manchester City’s captain Yaya Toure’ was subjected to monkey chants from the stands at CSKA Moscow. Rather than suspend the guilty parties, the top CSKA official amazingly claimed the accusation was a “smear campaign” against Russian football.

So while Labour MPs and corporate sponsors are calling for a re-vote to the Qatar games, not one suggestion has been made to do the same for Russia’s winning bid. This, despite a laundry list of viable reasons. One wonders whether the Kremlin is nervous about Qatar’s growing stink pile wafting towards its own games, or whether it’s basking in the deflected attention it’s enjoyed thus far.

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