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Opinion: FIFA's Qatar Decision is No Shock

Fifa President Josef (Sepp) Blatter speaks to the audience during the FIFA 2018 and 2022 World Cup Bid Announcement in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday, December 2, 2010. (KEYSTONE/Patrick B. Kraemer)

Fifa President Josef (Sepp) Blatter speaks to the audience during the FIFA 2018 and 2022 World Cup Bid Announcement in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday, December 2, 2010. (KEYSTONE/Patrick B. Kraemer)

By now, most everyone knows about FIFA's decisions regarding the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

To no one's surprise, it awarded Russia the 2018 event.

Then, in the moment supporters of the Go USA Bid had been waiting for, FIFA president Sepp Blatter slowly opened the white envelope to reveal…Qatar.

It was a decision that left millions of Americans scratching their heads.

How could this have happened? What was FIFA thinking? Where is Qatar, anyway?

Though the United States was considered an early favorite, Qatar was never far behind and surged in the final days, even hours, of the bidding process. In the end, an all-star push from U.S. Soccer delegates -- former President Bill Clinton, actor Morgan Freeman and soccer star Landon Donovan -- wasn’t enough to push the bid over the top.

The truth is the announcement -- though met with a collective gasp here in the states -- doesn’t come as a complete shock to anyone who has followed Blatter’s FIFA presidency or the recent bidding process.

The four-term president has displayed a commitment to bringing the tournament to “new lands,” a point Blatter even referenced in his closing remarks. It was under Blatter’s leadership that the 2010 World Cup was awarded to South Africa, the first time any African nation had been granted a sporting event of that magnitude.

By the end of 2022, 18 countries will have hosted the World Cup. Only five will have hosted the tournament twice in its 22 occurrences. With the exception of Qatar and Australia, which was eliminated in the first round of the voting, every other 2022 country bidding had hosted a World Cup in the last two decades. 

Japan and Korea, bidding separately, played joint host to the event in 2002. And although it may seem like forever ago to American fans of the game, the United States hosted the tournament in 1994.

Of course, the bidding process was not without scandal, making this decision a bit harder for some to accept. Two members of FIFA’s 24-member executive committee were suspended in mid-November for allegedly offering to sell their votes.

Further complicating matters was the decision to announce two host nations at the same time.  The organization even went as far as investigating accusations of collusion (or “you vote for me for 2018, and I’ll vote for you for 2022”) among the Spain-Portugal delegation and the Qatar contingent. While an ethics panel cleared both nations, many questioned the impact of awarding two World Cups at once.

In a conference call following the announcement, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati did not make blatant accusations, but did not shrug the idea off, either.

“It’s clear and it’s been widely reported over the last several months that there were the possibility of some alliances,” Gulati said. “The numbers would seem to bear that out. Whether that’s independent of those supposed alliances or related to them, I don’t know. 

"It is also clear that …there was some tactical voting," he added. "What I mean by that is groups using a vote or two to make sure that someone else wasn’t eliminated in order to get some help later on. We knew that going in.”

Gulati stopped short of openly criticizing the dual bid process, but said he believed it warranted further reflection.

“It’s obviously not the way certain things are done in the U.S. or in other parts of the world, and it is the way things are done in different parts of the world, frankly,” Gulati said.

Pointing out that Blatter “some weeks ago said maybe in retrospect it wasn’t the right thing to hold two of these together,” Gulati added, “I’m sure FIFA will look at what’s happened over the last several months -- or two years -- in this process and decide how they want to go forward.”

For now, forward, as far as FIFA is concerned, is moving ahead on preparations for the upcoming World Cups. There are stadiums to be built, infrastructure upgrades to be made, billions of dollars to be spent, etc. 

Brazil will host 2014, followed by Russia in 2018 and -- controversy and U.S. disappointment aside -- Qatar in 2022.

Oh, and for the record, Qatar is a small peninsula (roughly the size of Connecticut) that juts off of Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf.

Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino.

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