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Putting the boot in

5 June 2015 By Breakingviews columnists

The FBI is investigating how soccer’s governing body awarded the right to host the World Cup to Russia and Qatar, a U.S. law enforcement official has told Reuters. Some officials at FIFA who oversaw those countries’ wins have been indicted by U.S. authorities. Breakingviews columnists don their shin-guards to kick around the big question: is it fair or practical to deprive the two countries of football’s biggest global fiesta?

Una Galani: NO

Why should an entire nation pay for the potential wrong-doings of a few individuals? Russia and Qatar have troubling human rights records, but that doesn’t justify stripping them of the right to host the tournament. If it were a European nation, would we still demand the World Cup was revoked after billions of dollars had been spent? At the worst, it would lead to both nations becoming less willing to cooperate with the international community.

Olaf Storbeck: YES

The threat of stripping a corrupt host country of the Word Cup would be a strong incentive for candidates to stay honest in the first place. An obvious problem with re-examining Russia and Qatar would be introducing the rule retrospectively. But I’m not entirely convinced by the argument about waste, which seems to be the whole purpose of the World Cup. Think of all the UK productivity lost due to depression every time the English team once again embarrasses itself.

Robert Cole: NO

Firmly holding my nose, I suggest that FIFA sticks by its decisions to hold the World Cup in Russia and Qatar. If there are safety issues, in either the construction process or for would-be players and ticket holders, I’d think again. But FIFA should look forward not back. Reform will happen quickest if FIFA accepts the mistakes of the past and commits itself to making better decisions in future.

Edward Hadas: MAYBE

It is a matter of judgment, not absolute principle. FIFA is bound by both the sanctity of contract (let the World Cup go on as agreed) and the non-binding nature of a contract signed under false pretences (the deals should be examined again). The former principle is more persuasive for Russia – which might have won in a totally fair contest – and the latter predominates for Qatar – which would probably not have been in the running, on climate grounds if nothing else.

Neil Unmack: NO

Penalising the country for the sins of the football association is unfair. Still, FIFA should introduce punishments for bribery, and apply them retroactively. Offending countries could for a period of time lose FIFA representation, and be banned from holding future games.

Quentin Webb: YES

Let a rotten award stand to avoid cost and upset? So much for sportsmanship in the world’s most popular game. This isn’t about the West bullying poorer countries, either. Quite the opposite. As emerging markets battle graft and cronyism, the last thing they need is proof that even rich-world institutions are for sale at the right price.

Rob Cox: NO

Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. By that token, the next few World Cups need to be awarded to North Korea, Iran and Canada.

Antony Currie: YES

Stripping the World Cup from a country if bribery were involved in securing it is not a harsh punishment for locals – just a shame, albeit a big one. Let them compete for 2026 and 2030 once FIFA’s governance has been fixed. But some admissions of guilt or criminal convictions – or both – would have to precede any decision to hand the tournament to another country. That pretty much rules out removing Russia as hosts, a move that would also be a bad geopolitical decision.

Richard Beales: NO

Russia 2018 is too soon for a rethink to be practical. Qatar 2022 is further away, so less difficult – though still costly – to abort. Building standards and worker conditions matter as well, and Qatar is unsuitable in terms of climate – hence its efforts to build cooled stadiums. Besides, the bulk of locals are really migrant workers (there are only around 300,000 Qatari citizens). That said, it shouldn’t be done lightly or without figuring out an alternative that includes the Arab soccer world.

Kevin Allison: NO

If Salt Lake could keep the 2002 Winter Olympics after its massive corruption scandal, Russia will probably manage to hold onto the 2018 World Cup. Stripping it would just feed Putin’s paranoia, with potentially ugly consequences. Qatar 2022 is a trickier question, because of worker and player safety concerns.

Reynolds Holding: NO

The right answer is yes, if rights were obtained through corruption. The better answer is no. It’s much like the way Major League Baseball should have treated steroids: wrongdoing was widespread, it’s probably impossible to tell how many people engaged in it and the governing body was complicit. But once we have rules against it and procedures for dealing with violations, everyone is on fair notice and needs to behave.

Jeff Goldfarb: YES

Russia and Qatar should keep their fingers crossed that FIFA uses this dubious but opportune moment to take away their World Cup duties. There is precious little evidence that the financial cost – and in the case of Qatar, risk to human life – of hosting a big global sporting event provides long-term return on investment. Just ask Greece. Both would-be hosts could be given a rare chance to cut their losses, and let some other soccer-loving nation play the greater fool.

Verdict: NO. Russia and Qatar win on points.


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