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Dec 2, 2010

Old charges amid new FIFA frontiers

The celebrations were almost muted in the Zurich auditorium but the recriminations will no doubt be heated. The winning bidders' shrieks of joy were kept to the moment of truth, through respect for the losers, whose efforts have been in vain, and who now must wait for a generation for their next chance.

• Russia, Qatar to host World Cups
• President revels in Russian success
• Beckham disappointment
• Sir Dave Richards stunned
• Qatar delight at historic award
• USA bid chief finds defeat hard to take

Accusations will be levelled at FIFA, a governing body that few trust yet which holds the cards for footballing enlightenment to be provided to host countries. Open season can be expected in the British press at the very least, and do not expect the Spanish to hold back either. Yet FIFA will argue that they have been brave to head for new frontiers.

Russia's bid made much of the fact that Eastern Europe, one of the world's most populated areas, is yet to be visited by the World Cup. It has hosted the Olympics, back in 1980, and in a previous and very different era. The Winter Olympics will head there in 2014 to Sochi, and four years later the world's largest country will welcome the world's greatest sporting event. Twenty years after the Iron Curtain fell, it is Russia that can provide FIFA with the fruits of capitalism and marketeering.

The Russian campaign centred on allowing the football world in to visit - no visa required - and their chance to meet the rest of the world. Giant steppes, one might say, and with no little irony considering the wealth of leaked information currently filling the world's newspapers about the regime and culture of the new Russia. Vladimir Putin plans to fly into Switzerland to celebrate with those who have delivered his heart's desire, and an accusation of glory-hunting can follow the rest of the allegations.

If Russia is a step only into the partially known, Qatar is the wildest of cards yet. The Middle East is one of the most important territories in geopolitical terms, and there is the sense that this uncharted territory needed to be visited. Qatar, a small nation state that embraces many of the trappings of western commerce, looks the safest of options in that area, now that Dubai has fallen by a debt-ridden wayside.

The small emirate has been pushing itself into the international sporting arena for some time, as those of us who have been party to the strong PR department of the Aspire Sports Academy will vouch. They have the wherewithal in financial terms to build the stadia, and these will be no ordinary football grounds. Those summer temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius will be fought through technology that allows outdoor stadia to be kept air-conditioned. If nothing else, they better get that right.

For the travelling fan, neither destination will offer much in the way of cheap thrills. A visit to Russia is no place for the ragged-trousered traveller and Qatar is likely to be the same. If a country with such a low cost of living as South Africa can become eye-wateringly expensive to a World Cup visitor then there is little hope of doing Russia and Qatar on a budget. But then again, those who have been part of the FIFA World Cup experience know that fans are little more than self-funding window-dressing. FIFA's latest choices reflect its view of itself as some form of pioneer of football frontiers, though it will cost you if you want to be so blessed.

The vanquished English, like the downcast HRH Prince William, and the still-diplomatic David Beckham, should be congratulated for the strength of their presentation, though David Cameron's swift disappearing act - a reverse Putin - is worthy of mention. No flies on him, then, but other members of the bid team are already looking for excuses. A lack of leadership is the current leading accusation, and the internecine warfare between such a collection of self-important suits hardly helped, though they will look to blame the media before themselves. The gaining of a paltry two votes, of which one was their own man in Geoff Thompson, says much about FIFA's closing of ranks to ward off the attentions of a prying press corps that will not, and must surely not, let up now.

In taking on these two countries as its latest partners, FIFA will be accused of dodging a host with a critical and free media. And both are far more likely to accede to the gatekeepers' demands for law changes set up to line their pockets than the likes of England, Australia, USA, the Low Countries and the Iberian nations.

Until FIFA reforms, a situation that looks so unlikely in the nearest futures, these and others will be the accusations they will face. That FIFA is set up to load its own coffers could be in little doubt but, in making two such exotic selections, it can counter that it has met its aim of taking the World Cup to the whole planet.

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