The United States could still host the 2022 World Cup after soccer’s governing body continued to be plagued by a deep-rooted bribery scandal that has rocked the sport to its core.
The American bid to host the tournament ended in disappointment in December, when members of governing body FIFA’s executive committee made the shocking decision to award the event to Qatar, a tiny Arab state with a population of fewer than two million people.
However, a storm of controversy has erupted around FIFA in the past week, reaching a head when it was revealed that general secretary Jerome Valcke wrote in an email that Qatar had “bought the World Cup.”
Suspicions about how Qatar had gathered the necessary support and outwitted the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea immediately flared up, and were raised again in May when Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper presented evidence that claimed to show bribes had been paid in exchange for votes.
Influential FIFA member Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Federation, demanded on Wednesday that Qatar be stripped of its hosting rights pending a full investigation – and that a new vote should be taken if any corrupt activity is unearthed.
“There is a certain degree of suspicion that one cannot sweep aside,” Zwanziger told the BBC. “I must expect that awarding this World Cup under these conditions needs to be examined anew.”
The scandal has intensified over the past week as FIFA president Sepp Blatter survived a fraught battle to win another four-year term in office but only after his lone rival, Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam, was suspended pending an investigation into alleged corrupt payments made to soccer officials in the Caribbean.
FIFA vice president Jack Warner was also suspended in connection with the same matter but then came out fighting, accusing Blatter himself of making unauthorized cash payments and gifts of computers to officials associated with CONCACAF, the North American and Caribbean confederation of which the United States is a part.
Blatter, a 75-year-old Swiss executive who has been in office since 1998, was handed a final four-year term in a vote at FIFA's congress. He received 186 out of 203 votes.
Although Blatter remains in control, he was forced to announce widespread changes to appease FIFA’s sponsors and a furious worldwide soccer public. From now on, each of FIFA’s 208 members will receive a vote on where future World Cups will be held, rather than a select 24-man executive committee.
Significantly, the full FIFA Congress will also be given power to elect members of the governing body's Ethics Committee, which oversees FIFA conduct and would ultimately be responsible for any decision to order a fresh vote on the 2022 World Cup. That move, in particular, will give U.S. Soccer great hope and cause grave concern in the Qatar camp.
The United States put up a strong challenge to host the 2022 tournament, reaching the final round of voting before Qatar prevailed 14-8. If a revote was ordered, the American federation would be a strong favorite, with Australia its primary challenger.
The political shenanigans have naturally gained far greater media coverage in countries other than the United States, where soccer is more ingrained in the public psyche. But if the sport's hour of darkness shakes out into a satisfactory conclusion, there may be no bigger winner than the United States.
- Sepp Blatter