David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: The triumph of Mr Green


If you'd looked at the least likely double to succeed in the running of the Fifa World Cup derby, the longest odds would surely have been on a Russia-Qatar success for 2018 and 2022.

So inevitably, that's what has been presented to the game.

Stands to reason, really, in a world whose corridors of power are all smoke and mirrors.

England (for 2018) and Australia (for 2022), a 1-2 punch for whom most in this part of the world would have plumped, almost sounded angrier at getting dumped in the first round of voting yesterday rather than missing out on the big prize.

That's understandable in a sense.

If you're in it at the final jump and come up short, that's one thing.

Self consolation can come with the knowledge that you'd given it a good lash, given your people a decent bang for their millions of bucks.

But getting bowled over 30 metres after the start of the race? That's a very different story.

2018 first.

England received just two of the 22 votes in the first round.

Presuming their man on the executive committee, Geoff Thompson, knew where to put the X on his voting slip, that leaves one other, thought to be Japan.

The presentation by all accounts was polished, with the three Ps as one English writer put it - the prince (William), the prime minister and the peacock (Lord David of Beckham) - and others covering all bases.

Fifa had signed off on the infrastructure; the signs were encouraging.

But did Fifa's thinly veiled contempt for England and its bruising media, who write nasty things about those good old boys in Zurich, have the last say?

Allegations of corruption on television and in newspapers in the last few days, with talk of secret payments involving over £60 million ($124 million) clearly went down like stale porridge.

So Fifa bit back. Hard. Mess with us and you get a black eye, was the gist of the response.

Russia has a mountain of infrastructure issues to confront. But evidently theirs was a decent bid, unlike the hopeless Spain-Portugal attempt, which tried to cosy up to Fifa men.

English insiders insist some of the voters "looked us in the eye and lied to us".

As if. Fancy that. Who'd have guessed. To even raise that suggests a fair measure of naivete.

"In football, we also learn to lose," Fifa's boss Sepp Blatter said patronisingly. Slap.

And for 2022? Fifa cannot be accused of failing to expand the Cup's horizons.

Gas and oil-rich Qatar presents a different set of challenges.

Where to fit about 400,000 visitors into a country half the size of Waikato.

Where to put all the hotels that need building, not to mention constructing several air-conditioned stadiums, harnessing carbon neutral solar energy, to help compensate for approximately 50C heat.

They said alcohol would be allowed in designated areas, but it's fair to say Qatar is not keen on public drunkenness. A (brief) sea change is required in the Islamic country.

Let's for a moment give the Fifa gang a hand: they've talked about spreading the game, the importance of legacy and all that.

The Arab world has never hosted a World Cup, or an Olympics for that matter. Strictly in those terms, Russia and Qatar do represent that.

But let's also not hand out too much credit. One imperative drives this corrupt organisation: money. The more the better.

In Zurich, what Americans call Mr Green was fluttering loudly in the corner of the room.

Anyone who thinks Fifa makes decisions of this magnitude with the good of the game as the central driving force needs a long holiday.

There is a lesson here for countries hoping to win Fifa endorsement to host a Cup in the future: it's delusional to think that having a Morgan Freeman, an Elle MacPherson or a former American president in your presentation team will make a significant difference. As it should be.

Australia got just a solitary vote. Was their campaign that wretched? Of course not.

The key in this game is to try to read the Fifa minds, beware shifting ground, forget the star wattage, and sniff the wind.

Then make sure you're carrying the heftiest chequebook.

- NZ Herald

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