Thrilling football, crowds of between 40,000 and 78,000 at most matches, all-night partying in the streets by festive fans, and no major incident so far. FIFA officials must be slapping each other on the back for awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia. FIFA’S decision was not without controversy, with many saying that Russian sports was synonymous with racism and doping, while others pointed to Moscow’s questionable foreign policy, its authoritarian style of government and its homophobia. But with the knockout stage of the tournament producing some of the most exciting football ever seen at a World Cup and with fans eschewing politics in favour of partying, the FIFA officials could be excused for heaving a sigh of relief, and even possibly drinking a toast to what so far has been an unexpected success story. At the same time, however, they must more than ever be regretting their decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Aside from swirling allegations of corruption linked to the questionable decision, the 2022 tournament has, inevitably, been plunged into the seething cauldron of Middle Eastern politics.
Also Read | FIFA World Cup 2018: Les Bleus crowned World Champions!Should the Qatari World Cup actually go ahead – there are many indications that it won’t – the type of partying now been witnessed in Russia just won’t happen. For one thing, the conservative Muslim country has made it clear that it will retain its ban on alcohol being consumed in public during the World Cup, proposing instead various sites in the desert to which fans thirsting for a beer will be bused. This factor alone could be enough to dissuade many football fans from travelling to Qatar.
And then there is the rather awkward problem of Qatar being ostracized by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain over what they allege is Doha’s support for terrorism and its warming relations with Iran. If in four years’ time diplomatic relations have not been restored, and the border closure and travel ban remain in force, attendance of the World Cup by nationals of the UAE, Saudi, Egypt and Bahrain will be severely restricted. This could play havoc with Qatar’s hopes of attracting a greater number of fans from the Middle East to the first-ever World Cup being staged in an Arab country. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allies are trying their best to have Doha stripped of holding the World Cup on the basis that it supports terrorism but FIFA would have to find another reason to carry out such a drastic step lest it be accused of taking sides in the politically sensitive standoff. In the end, the integrity of Qatar’s winning bid may decide the issue. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Swiss prosecutors have launched separate probes into the awarding of both the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 edition to Qatar after numerous allegations emerged of endemic corruption in the bidding process.
Click here to take part in News Nation's Football World Cup Contest and win exciting prizesQatar, according to the allegations, paid millions of dollars to FIFA executive committee members as they were considering the various bids. Reeling from the allegations, FIFA appointed US investigator Michael Garcia to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids for corruption. Garcia did find evidence of serious irregularities but not enough to call in question the integrity of the votes. He did however recommend action against several senior members of the FIFA executive committee. Despite the ongoing investigations by the FBI and Swiss authorities, FIFA president Gianni Infantino insists the 2022 World Cup will be hosted by Qatar as planned. This was apparently in response to Saudi and UAE sources spreading fake news that FIFA had decided to strip Qatar of the tournament. If the flagship event of world football does indeed finally kick off in Qatar, it will be a vastly different tournament to the one currently mesmerising football fans across the world. For one thing, it will be played in November-December when the extreme heat of the summer months in the desert country has passed. This could impact the number of fans travelling to the Gulf state from Europe, though this is likely to be compensated by an increase in numbers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But will the streets, like those in Moscow and other World Cup venues, be filled with party goers, Conga lines of Mexicans, Argentinians performing gaucho dances and delirious Peruvian fans seemingly oblivious to the fact that their team was knocked out in the first round? Celebrations there will undoubtedly be, but without alcohol to fuel the fervour, never-ending partying there is unlikely to be.