Russia scoops Europe’s 2018 World Cup

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FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia yesterday (2 December), shattering the hopes of a bemused England and rejecting joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/The Netherlands.

Russia won the right to put on the 2018 World Cup, the first time it will have been staged in Eastern Europe after 10 editions in the Western half of the continent.

The Russians, leading with nine votes on the first ballot, obtained 13 votes on the second round, ahead of Spain/Portugal on seven and Netherlands/Belgium with just two.

England humiliated as allegations fly

England, motherland of football, was humiliated, going out in the first round with just two votes despite three days of lobbying in Zürich by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

England was widely seen as the favourite for the bid.

"It's hard to see what more you can do, but in the end it turns out having the best technical bid, the best commercial bid, a passion for football, that's not enough," Cameron said.

"It's desperately sad. There hasn't been a World Cup in England in my lifetime. I was hoping we could change that but not this time," he added. 

British newspapers fumed at the verdict. "FIFA bungs Russia the World Cup," roared the Sun, claiming that England's bid was "widely superior in every aspect" and reporting that the nation was "struggling to understand why [it] lost out to Russia despite a far more impressive campaign".

Observers said England's bid may have suffered from an adverse reaction by FIFA to the corruption allegations and to Wednesday's serious outbreak of soccer hooliganism at a cup match in Birmingham.

Meanwhile, former England manager Graham Taylor called for a thorough probe of FIFA's operations. "They don't have to answer to anyone, particularly governments, because if governments get involved they suspend the nation concerned from all football activities," he said. 

"It's about time FIFA was really investigated. It sets itself above everything and is very secret. You can't get the answers you are looking for on what decisions are made," Taylor added. 

Russia, Qatar take World Cup to new lands

Qatar, which has never qualified for the World Cup finals, will stage the 2022 tournament, a first both for the Middle East and for an Arab country. It will also be the smallest nation ever to host the World Cup.

Both new hosts are major energy producers and both had planned larger and costlier investment in infrastructure and new stadiums than all their respective rivals.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who announced the winners after a vote of his executive committee in the Swiss financial capital, was eager to put the decisions in terms of expansion.: "We go to new lands."

"Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world have been waiting for a long time, so I'm a happy president when we talk about the development of football."

Russia proposed in its bid document to FIFA a massive project of stadium construction and renovation, with proposals for 16 stadiums, 13 of them new, at a cost of €2.9 billion – the largest figure among the four European bidders.

Qatar plans to renovate three stadiums and build nine new ones at a cost of €2.3 billion, including the climate-control technology that will be needed to keep the temperature on the pitch to 27 degrees Celsius while outside it is a scorching 50 degrees.

Critics of FIFA, and there are many, will say the decision was all about the money. But it should be noted that in a McKinsey report commissioned on projected revenue Russia scored bottom of the 2018 bidders and Qatar second to last of the five 2022 candidates.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew in to Zürich immediately after the winning vote and held a news conference before going on to meet and thank Blatter and FIFA.

"We are honoured to win in this tough and fair fight," he told reporters. "Thank you for supporting Russia. Together let us make sure football supports fair play, tolerance, honour."

Corruption allegations mar vote

Putin said he had made the right decision to stay away from Zürich for Russia's final presentation so FIFA executives could make their choice in peace after corruption allegations against some executive committee members in the British media.

"I did this out of respect," he said. "There was unacceptable campaigning that was deployed for the World Cup in 2018. People were accused of corruption. They were accused without any grounds, without any reasons, no justifications."

Rejecting familiar territories England, hosts of soccer's showpiece in 1966, Spain (1982), the US (1994) and South Korea and Japan (2002 co-hosts) and going to Eastern Europe and the Middle East for the first time sees FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter continue a modern mission.

After FIFA secured a first World Cup for Asia in 2002, Blatter desperately wanted to take the tournament to Africa in 2006.

In the end he had to wait, as Germany pulled off an electoral coup to snatch the rights to 2006 from his favoured South Africa, but not for long as he pressed ahead and was able to see a first African World Cup staged successfully this year.

Brazil will host the next tournament in 2014, representing a return to South America for the first time since 1978 and a visit to one of the fastest growing economies.

Oil-producing Russia, like Brazil, is part of the ‘BRIC’ group of emerging nations which are becoming ever more important players in global financial terms, while economic growth in gas-rich Qatar has come at a similarly heady speed.

Fierce lobbying

The executive committee of football's governing body voted for the two winning bids after a fierce lobbying campaign which saw world political leaders and top sports personalities gather in Zürich to press their case for one of the biggest prizes in global sport.

Russia defeated the challenge of three other European bidders, England and the joint bids of the Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal.

Qatar took the honours for 2022 over rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Qatar bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani told the FIFA executive: "Thank you for backing us and expanding the game. You will be proud of us and you will be proud of the Middle East."

Qatar led in the 2022 ballot on each of the four rounds, obtaining 14 votes against eight to the US in the final round.

"I think it was the wrong decision," US President Barack Obama told reporters.

Australia made a first round exit with just one vote and Japan and South Korea fell out in turn on the next two rounds.

(EURACTIV with Reuters)

Congratulating Russia on securing the 2018 World Cup, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "I look forward to Russia inspiring the world in 2018."

"I know how much the Russian people love football and I am sure that it will be a great tournament, with a fantastic atmosphere," Barroso said.

"I also want to congratulate the teams from Portugal and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, and England, who all put together remarkable bids," he added.  

Miguel Angel Lopez, managing director of the Spain/Portugal bid, said: "FIFA thought it was better to promote football in other latitudes and there we are. The decision is focused on taking football to regions which have never held a World Cup."

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said: "Perhaps the members of the executive committee wanted to expand football to new lands, to countries that are powerful economically, to those with money."

UK bid advisor Keith Mills said: "I'm not sure what else we could have done and I think FIFA are sending a message to the world about where they want the World Cup.

"FIFA's message was loud and clear today that they want football and the World Cup to go to the developing part of the world.

UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said: "The only explanation I can give is the one given by Sepp Blatter, that they wanted to take the World Cup to new frontiers."

Former Belgian footballer Marc Wilmots told public broadcaster RTBF: "Russia is a political choice and Qatar is an economic choice. You can say that to some extent the sport has been the loser with the decision for these two World Cups."

"Now everyone knew from the start that there would be more people disappointed than winners. We are in the first category but from a sporting point of view you have to know how to accept this with grace," Wilmots said.

The football World Cup, which takes place every four years, is one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.

This summer's World Cup finals saw tournament hosts South Africa stage the event on African soil for the first time. Spain lifted the trophy on 11 July after being the Netherlands 1-0 in the final (EURACTIV 12/07/10).

The next tournament will take place in Brazil in 2014. 

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