How did Russia Win the 2018 World Cup Bid?

How did Russia Win the 2018 World Cup Bid?

November 7, 2019 100 By Luis Garrison


December 2nd 2010, is a day that has gone
down in infamy. It was the day, in Zurich, when the then FIFA president announced who
would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals. Of course, the moment Sepp Blatter pulled
out a card and read the name QATAR is the most memorable and controversial moment. But,
no less important and no less controversial was the choice of the 2018 World Cup hosts:
Russia. In a way, both choices were not much of a
surprise. FIFA under Blatter had become much less Western European centric, and looked
to spread power and money in football around the world. So a first World Cup finals in
the Middle East and another in Eastern Europe, fitted their MO perfectly. Russia, in particular, has a long and deep
history in a game that is wildly popular in this vast country of nearly 150 million people. So how did two eminently predictable outcomes
become the symbol of the worst of FIFA corruption? The process that led us to Russia and Qatar
was perhaps one of the most controversial in the history of sport, involving political
deals and the highest level, allegations of corruption which are still emerging to this
day and, intriguingly, the use of a wide number of intelligence services and various other
spooks and hangers on in a bid to get a crucial edge in the vote. But the process began in 2007, three years
earlier, when FIFA abolished its policy of rotating the finals between confederations.
And, crucially, then general secretary Jerome Valcke [VALK] pushed through an idea to host
the 2018 and 2022 votes together. This, as it turned out, was a disaster. Soon enough the runners and riders were known.
Russia was against England as well as joint bids for Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal
for 2018. Although Blatter had been sceptical of joint bids meaning that England would likely
be Russia’s biggest rival, even though the English were disliked with FIFA’s corridors
of power, largely because of British press reporting of various corruption scandals.
Qatar was up against Australia, favourites the United States, Japan, and South Korea. The next two years was a dizzying process
of hard lobbying and rule bending. The bids had to convince the 24 person FIFA Executive
Committee, or Ex Co. It contained names that are very familiar now: Chuck Blazer, Mohamed
Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, alongside the likes of more established figures like Sepp
Blatter, Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer. What followed was an orgy of spending and
power politics, on all sides. Qatar would invest heavily in building outposts of its
Aspire Academy in country’s that just happened to have a member of the ExCo. The Russian
bid had been caught giving artwork to ExCo member Michel D’Hooghe (it was later found
to be worthless). England had handed out £230 Mulberry handbags to the wives of ExCo members. What also became clear is that the ExCo members
had also been making outlandish demands for cash and gifts and sometimes prestige. Nicholas
Leoz of Paraguay, for instance, was reported to have wanted to meet the Queen. Jack Warner
demanded that a close family friend be given a job somewhere in English football. By the time the vote came around, Zurich was
full of celebrities lobbying for their causes. Prime Minister David Cameron arrived with
Prince William and David Beckham, hoping to sprinkle a little star dust. But they were
not the only outside guests. A measure of just how serious the bidding nations were
taking it was reflected by the fact that Zurich appeared to be awash with spooks. Intelligence
agencies, according to numerous people within the campaigns were hard at work trying to
secure an advantage. Bonita Mersiades, who was working on Australia’s
2022 bid, recalled how the 2010 Zurich vote was awash with spooks engaged in espionage.
“The intelligence agencies that were there said it was really noticeable when the Russians
turned up because no one could hear or see anything.” The Russians, she explained,
“had jammed everyone else’s devices.” But that doesn’t mean that the English bid
was whiter than white. A former MI6 man had been hired to “gather intelligence” on
the rival bids, and had seen Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich being employed to secure
a Russian World Cup in 2018. “Roman [Abramovich] was absolutely integral
to the Russian bid,’ the ex-MI6 agent later said whilst also claiming that an agreement
had been struck long before between Qatar and Russia as part of a huge natural gas deal. ‘I remember seeing him [Abramovich] attending
private meetings with Sepp Blatter in South Africa and thinking to myself, “We don’t
do that, so we are fucked . . . ” Roman was very visible. Any suggestion that he paid
money, I don’t know. The way he operates, you’d never find out. ’ The ex MI6 man was later revealed to be Christopher
Steele, a Russia expert and former Moscow bureau chief who was also the author of the
so-called Trump Dossier, a salacious document that contained lurid alleations of Donald
Trump’s relationship with Russia. When the votes came in, it wasn’t even close.
England was eliminated in the first round with just two votes, one of them presumably
from England’s ExCo member Geoff Thompson. Russia won on the next round of voting with
13 out of 22 votes (Two ExCo members Reynald Temarii and Amos Adamu were suspended when
a Sunday Times sting suggested they had been open to selling their votes). Qatar had also
secured the bid. Afterwards, a delighted Vladimir Putin announced
that Abramovich would be paying for some of the stadiums to be built. “I don’t rule
out that Mr Abramovich may take part in one of these projects,” he said. “Let him
open his wallet a little. It’s no big deal – he won’t feel the pinch. He has plenty
of money.” The fallout was huge. Figures within the failed
England bid would use Parliamentary privilege to regal stories of how FIFA Ex Co members
had demanded outlandish bribes. A Qatari whistleblower claimed $1.5million had been paid in bribes,
but she later, bizarrely, recanted her version of events. The Sunday Times reported that
Mohamed Bin Hammam had operated a slush fund to secure World Cup votes. American lawyer Michael Garcia was appointed
by FIFA to investigate the corruption allegations. When the report was released (long after Garcia
had resigned over FIFA’s attempts to shut the report down) it cleared both Russia and
Qatar but found the England bid to have been in breach. Although that might not tell the full story
of Russia’s bid. FIFA’s ethics committee asked to see the Russian federation’s computers.
They refused, saying that they had only borrowed the computers and they had all now been destroyed
anyway. In the aftermath, dozens of FIFA officials
were indicted in a US racketeering case (a round up which famously began at the Baur
au Lac hotel in Zurich) whilst others were banned from football, including Platini and
Blatter. Well over half of the 24 person ExCo have been indicted or banned from the game. When Blatter was removed after losing the
2015 FIFA presidential election (and then being suspended from FIFA) Blatter later told
the Russian news agency TASS that it had been agreed beforehand that Russia would get 2018
and the US 2022. But Platini, he says, had thrown a spanner in the works. “For the World Cups it was agreed that we
go to Russia because it’s never been in Russia, eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to
America. And so we will have the World Cup in the two biggest political powers. And everything
was good until the moment when Sarkozy came in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar,
who is now the ruler of Qatar. And at a lunch afterwards with Mr Platini he said it would
be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed all pattern,” Blatter said. Platini admitted
he had voted for Qatar but has always denied voting under pressure for political reasons. Vladimir Putin was, of course, delighted to
have won and has stuck by Blatter. “We know the pressure that was exerted on him [Blatter]
with the aim of banning the 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Putin said after Blatter was
suspended, suggesting that he was being targeted by sore losers in England and the US. The World Cup is a few days away now. And
there are perhaps other issues rather than corruption to worry about when it comes to
Russia 2018; the erosion of democracy, the persecution of the LGBT community, and a continued
low level war in Eastern Ukraine. But, such was the mess around that day in
Zurich. The rules were changed. Now, every FIFA member would get a vote. And they are
about to do it again with FIFA voting on the hosts of the 2026 World Cup on the eve of
the finals. This time it is USA versus Morocco. But the change in format hasn’t made it any
less controversial. US President Donald Trump’s harsh meteoritic on migrants, especially from
the Muslim world, seemed to alienate America’s voting base, handing the advantage to Morocco. But then Trump tweeted out a threat: “The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid
w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always
support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries
when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?” As ever, football, FIFA, the World Cup and
hard politics are never far away.