In the end, English and Hollywood royalty weren’t enough. The U.S. and England pulled out all the stops in their bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- enlisting the efforts of two U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton and, via video message, Barack Obama), a British prime minister (David Cameron) an Oscar winner (Morgan Freeman) and a king-to-be (Prince William). But when it came down to the vote, the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event went to Russia, not England for 2018 and Qatar, not America in 2022.
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, went for promise over experience in its decision, opting to break new ground. Russia will be the first Eastern European country to host the World Cup. Qatar the first Middle Eastern -- and Muslim -- nation to do so. While Russia is an emerging soccer power, tiny Qatar -- population 1.3 million -- has never qualified for a World Cup.
“We go to new lands!” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Zurich Thursday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was one of the first to react to the news, writing on his Twitter account: "Hurrah! Victory! We will host the 2018 World Cup! Now we must get ready. And, of course, play well."
Both Russia and Qatar are rapidly expanding media markets and close enough to Europe -- soccer’s largest market in terms of television audience figures -- to ensure strong viewing figures for the 2018 and 2022 events. FIFA earned more than $3 billion in TV and sponsorship rights deals for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. That figure is expected to increase for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
But both Russia and Qatar have to overcome major organizational hurdles to prepare for their World Cups. Moscow is promising to waive all visa requirements for World Cup ticket holders and pledging to offer free train travel to hosting cities during the event. But security will be a major worry.
In Qatar, the major concern is the country's blistering desert heat, though the oil-rich nation has promised to build state-of-the-art air-conditioned stadiums.
"Heat is not and will not be an issue,” said Qatar’s bid chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi.
The bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was rife with controversy and accusations of corruption. FIFA’s ethics committee suspended two executive committee members -- from Nigeria and Tahiti -- after a Sunday Times sting operation caught them on tape asking for financial “contributions” in exchange for voting for England. On Monday, the BBC aired a documentary that alleged that three senior FIFA officials who did vote took bribes totalling around $100 million in the 1990s.
Many English supporters feared the BBC report might have ruined their chances to host the 2018 games. Andy Anson, head of the English 2018 bid, called the BBC “unpatriotic” for running the report.
FIFA’s decision is a blow to England, the “birthplace of soccer” which last hosted the World Cup in 1966.
For the U.S., losing the 2022 bid is a major setback and will likely dampen hopes that soccer can become a major league sporting event.
The American delegation had hoped to capitalize on the ratings success of the 2010 World Cup, which saw nearly 100 million people tune in to watch the games, including a record 24.3 million catching the final on ABC and Spanish-language Univision.