LONDON — The United States will be favorites to host the World Cup in 2022 if the tournament is stripped from Qatar amid two criminal investigations and allegations of widespread corruption and bribery.
When Qatar won FIFA’s competition to host the tournament in 2010, it was the U.S. who finished in second place. One high-ranking former official told The Daily Beast, that the World Cup could be re-allocated to the runner-up without a further contest; others said a re-vote would become a straight shoot-out between Australia and the U.S.
Sepp Blatter had refused to countenance the removal of the World Cup from Qatar despite mounting evidence that the contest had been compromised. His shock resignation Tuesday massively increases the chances of disappointment in Doha, not least since FIFA may now grant access to its secretive inner-workings to the authorities.
An FBI official told Reuters Wednesday that Qatar and Russia’s bids to host the World Cup are part of their ongoing investigation. Swiss prosecutors have already announced a formal probe. If they unearth evidence that bribery, money laundering or fraud were involved in awarding the tournament to the tiny, oil-rich nation, the next FIFA president will come under intense pressure to take the contest out of the desert and put it into Foxborough, Cowboys Stadium and the Rose Bowl, which were selected as the centerpiece stadiums in the American bid.
Britain’s Minister for Sport during the original bid process, which included an English effort to secure the 2018 tournament, said the U.S. was in prime position to take over in 2022. “I think that ought to be the case, yes,” Sir Hugh Robertson told The Daily Beast. “If corruption is proved, one of the ways of doing this would be to award it to whoever came second.”
Robertson was clear that Qatar should only lose the tournament, however, if criminal behavior was proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Greg Dyke, the current chairman of the England Football Association, has been even more outspoken.
"If [Swiss prosecutors] come out and say they think—as I suspect from all the journalism that has been done—that an awful lot of money was thrown at this and some of it went to people who it shouldn't have gone to, then I do think it should be rebid," he told the BBC. “It's probably likely either to go to Australia or America who were the two under-bidders."
U.S. soccer officials have studiously refused to comment on how the unfolding FIFA crisis could affect the World Cup in 2022; multiple organizations declined to answer questions on U.S. preparedness to host the World Cup.
It emerged Wednesday that the FBI has been investigating the Qatar bid since September 2011. Documents shown to Reuters indicate that Phaedra Almajid, a Qatar bid employee told American investigators she had witnessed the payment of $1.5 million in bribes to three African members of FIFA's executive committee.
In testimony that was unsealed by the Department of Justice in Brooklyn Wednesday, it was revealed that Chuck Blazer, America’s highest-ranking FIFA official turned informant, has admitted under oath that previous World Cup bids were bought.
"I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup," he said.
Jeffrey Thinnes, a consultant who advises organizations on ethics and international corruption, said it was inevitable that FIFA would be forced to re-examine the way they awarded the World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
“They have to look at those bids, otherwise any new credibility they hope to create is lost on day one,” he said. “New people can’t come in with guns blazing, when you know there's corruption everywhere, and then pretend it's all resolved because 14 people are indicted and this seemingly untouchable king has now been dethroned. It's going to make people not only skeptical but cynical.”
Speaking on the phone from Washington, D.C., Thinnes said the U.S. was well-placed to host the games but he admitted there might be an image problem if the tournament was handed straight to them.
“It obviously wouldn't look great with our FBI leading the charge now and then the games get flipped to the U.S. market, but so be it,” he said.
The U.S. bid submitted in 2010 included 21 American football venues from Husky Stadium in Seattle to the home of the Miami Dolphins in Florida. According to a FIFA report in the build up to the vote, the U.S. had the best technical bid while Qatar was criticized for lacking infrastructure. FIFA officials also raised concern about the safety of players attempting to engange in top-level sport in summer temperatures that had reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit earlier that year.
Despite claims of corruption from the authorities in the U.S. and Switzerland, Qatar’s Foreign Minister said the nation was being unfairly targeted.
"It is very difficult for some to digest that an Arab Islamic country has this tournament, as if this right can't be for an Arab state," Khaled al-Attiyah said Wednesday. "I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar.
James Montague, the author of When Friday Comes: Football, War and Revolution in the Middle East, said there were problems with hosting the World Cup in the region but he rejected allegations made by some of Qatar’s critics that the success of the bid proved in itself that the process had been corrupt.
“There are plenty of people in the Middle East that are incredibly proud that Qatar is going to have it. The idea that it's taken away and then given to the U.S. could start a third Intifada! I mean it really would be seen as a highly inflammatory move by FIFA,” he said.
“You've got to be careful that if Qatar loses it and then the U.S. win it that would have far-reaching political consequences outside of football.”