Well, the votes are in, the decision is made, and all the blandishments of Clinton and Morgan Freeman have failed: we won’t be having a World Cup here any time soon. I’ll try and get over my initial disappointment: I’ve lately been having bucolic daydreams about a nice summer 2022 (yes, we actually do plan that long ahead when it has to do with the World Cup) spent zipping around the U.S. by car taking in games. Instead, I’ll presumably need to get used to some very high temperatures in Qatar. For the admittedly relatively small population of people here in the U.S. who were aware that this announcement was being made today, the outcome might have come as a bit of a surprise, especially when coupled with the defeat of both the English and the Spain/Portugal Bids for the 2018 World Cup, which went to Russia. Grant Wahl has already written a short, and strong reaction in which he argues: “Choosing Qatar and Russia is the biggest indictment possible that FIFA is not a clean organization. The message here is that petrodollars talk.”
Even if I’d like to pretend that the main reason Qatar got the bid was that Zidane supported it, there’s no getting around the rather ugly spectacle that has attended the lobbying around these decisions. At the same time, of course, it’s hard not to seem parochial when one gets upset that Qatar got the bid. After all, a World Cup in the Middle East seems like just the thing for a supposedly cosmopolitan, global institution like FIFA. As Supriya Nair tweeted, summing up the conundrum here: “yes. fifa are corrupt. twitter footie fans are racist, sexist and parochial. we deserve each other.” There’s a flood of complex, fascinating, and at times alarming commentary on twitter and elsewhere about this decision, and more is sure to come in the next days.
We do have to admit, though, that this does signal a quite profound reconfiguration in the sites of footballing power, a de-centering away from the traditional homes of the World Cup in Western Europe and Latin America. After all, the series starting in 2010 will look like this: South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Qatar. Whatever else you might say, it’s certainly an interesting itinerary. It’s not exactly that FIFA has been thoroughly decolonized — most of us will probably die before we get to go to another African World Cup — but it’s clear that new centers of power and influence are emerging. They are doing so, of course, through the usual unsavory methods used to gain institutional power. But they are doing so nonetheless. And, if nothing else, we will certainly now be treated to twelve years of discussions about Qatar’s laws, climate, security apparatus, gender dynamics, and much else.
The evident beffudlement on the part of many of us, I think, in part has to do with not being quite sure what the narrative about this decision, and this 2022 World Cup, is supposed to be. It was in a way easy, and compelling, to tell a particular story about the power and meaning of the South Africa World Cup. Brazil 2014 seems profoundly natural in a different way. But what is the story we will tell ourselves about Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022? (I’ll admit, I just had to add a category for Qatar on the blog; but I know it’ll get plenty of use now.) I don’t know, but I eagerly await it’s unfolding: after all, while little else is guaranteed in life, we know that people will always talk, and talk, passionately, profusely, and often uninhibitedly, about all that might go right, and wrong, about future World Cups.
I’ve asked one of our former Duke student contributors, Steffi Decker, who along with Umberto Plaja produced an excellent page here about the decision World Cup bid process, to offer her thoughts on this too — they’ll be posted soon.