Removing Russia, Qatar as hosts does no favours
IF RUSSIA and Qatar were not feeling the jitters before, they surely will be now. The hosts of the Fifa World Cup in 2018 and 2022 respectively are facing the nightmare prospect of having the privilege of staging football's most high-profile tournament taken away from them.
Neither would have been too pleased at hearing the recent comments by Domenico Scala, Fifa's head of audit and compliance, who warned that the awards could be annulled if there was concrete new evidence of corruption during the bidding process.
Allegations of corrupt payments to influence the votes of Fifa officials are not new, but last month's shock arrest of several senior Fifa executives and the investigation into alleged bribes and kickbacks worth over US$150 million (S$203 million) have restarted the fiery and controversial debate on whether to revoke the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
There are likely to be serious repercussions if either Russia or Qatar is forced to give up the hosting rights awarded by Fifa, the sport's world governing body, back in December 2010.
Both nations, which are deep into the preparations to organise the month-long competition, have awarded contracts worth billions of dollars for infrastructure such as roads, highways, stadiums and ports.
The Russian government has estimated the total cost of the 2018 World Cup at US$12.5 billion, with half of that coming from the federal budget.
In all honesty, it would be nearly impossible at this stage to find a country willing and ready to take over Russia's place for the next World Cup, which is set to begin in June 2018.
In Qatar's case, it is probably more a loss of face for the wealthy Gulf state, given that the oil-rich nation would have probably spent big money on infrastructure in any case, in line with its ambitions to be a leading player in the Middle East.
The latest figures show that Qatar will spend as much as US$65 billion on stadiums, a new national railway and metro system, and 140 new hotels, among others.
Should Qatar be stripped of the World Cup, it would be a significant blow to both the country's reputation and sentiment among local retail investors.
That said, with a full seven years to go until 2022, there would still be some time for Fifa to hunt for a suitable replacement and for that new host country to prepare for the tournament from scratch, but only barely.
There is, of course, the moral and ethical issues to consider here. Should it be eventually proven that the voting for the two World Cup tournaments was tainted, there is every right for one to expect a revote in the interest of transparency.
At this point, it looks likely that both Russia and Qatar will be found guilty of some form of wrongdoing in how they were named as hosts, but it is worth remembering that it is primarily the fault of Fifa and the manner in which it lets corruption fester within the organisation.
It is perhaps far too severe to remove them as hosts, as they were simply gaming the system that has been in place for decades. Russia and Qatar have not hosted a World Cup before, and it would be unfair to punish the innocent fans who have waited a lifetime to see football's premier tournament on their home soil.
Whatever transpires in the coming weeks and months, it is clear that Fifa is in complete turmoil. The Zurich-based organisation is without a chief after Sepp Blatter announced his resignation last week, just days after being elected to a fifth term.
The new president, whoever he may be after the extraordinary congress and election that could take place any time from December to March next year, certainly has unenviable shoes to fill.
The reform of Fifa will be a slow process but it has to be done in the right manner, no matter how long it may take. Making any drastic decisions such as depriving Russia and Qatar of the World Cup at this juncture would be taking a major step back.
THE BUSINESS TIMES