How did Russia Win the 2018 World Cup Bid?

How did Russia Win the 2018 World Cup Bid?
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    December 2nd 2010, is a day that has gone down in infamy. It was the day, in Zurich,
    when the then FIFA president announced who would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.
    Of course, the moment Sepp Blatter pulled out a card and read the name QATAR is the
    most memorable and controversial moment. But, no less important and no less controversial
    was the choice of the 2018 World Cup hosts: Russia.
    In a way, both choices were not much of a surprise. FIFA under Blatter had become much
    less Western European centric, and looked to spread power and money in football around
    the world. So a first World Cup finals in the Middle East and another in Eastern Europe,
    fitted their MO perfectly.
    Russia, in particular, has a long and deep history in a game that is wildly popular in
    this vast country of nearly 150 million people.
    So how did two eminently predictable outcomes become the symbol of the worst of FIFA corruption?
    The process that led us to Russia and Qatar was perhaps one of the most controversial
    in the history of sport, involving political deals and the highest level, allegations of
    corruption which are still emerging to this day and, intriguingly, the use of a wide number
    of intelligence services and various other spooks and hangers on in a bid to get a crucial
    edge in the vote.
    But the process began in 2007, three years earlier, when FIFA abolished its policy of
    rotating the finals between confederations. And, crucially, then general secretary Jerome
    Valcke [VALK] pushed through an idea to host the 2018 and 2022 votes together. This, as
    it turned out, was a disaster.
    Soon enough the runners and riders were known. Russia was against England as well as joint
    bids for Netherlands/Belgium and Spain/Portugal for 2018. Although Blatter had been sceptical
    of joint bids meaning that England would likely be Russia's biggest rival, even though the
    English were disliked with FIFA's corridors of power, largely because of British press
    reporting of various corruption scandals. Qatar was up against Australia, favourites
    the United States, Japan, and South Korea.
    The next two years was a dizzying process of hard lobbying and rule bending. The bids
    had to convince the 24 person FIFA Executive Committee, or Ex Co. It contained names that
    are very familiar now: Chuck Blazer, Mohamed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, alongside the
    likes of more established figures like Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer.
    What followed was an orgy of spending and power politics, on all sides. Qatar would
    invest heavily in building outposts of its Aspire Academy in country's that just happened
    to have a member of the ExCo. The Russian bid had been caught giving artwork to ExCo
    member Michel D'Hooghe (it was later found to be worthless). England had handed out £230
    Mulberry handbags to the wives of ExCo members.
    What also became clear is that the ExCo members had also been making outlandish demands for
    cash and gifts and sometimes prestige. Nicholas Leoz of Paraguay, for instance, was reported
    to have wanted to meet the Queen. Jack Warner demanded that a close family friend be given
    a job somewhere in English football.
    By the time the vote came around, Zurich was full of celebrities lobbying for their causes.
    Prime Minister David Cameron arrived with Prince William and David Beckham, hoping to
    sprinkle a little star dust. But they were not the only outside guests. A measure of
    just how serious the bidding nations were taking it was reflected by the fact that Zurich
    appeared to be awash with spooks. Intelligence agencies, according to numerous people within
    the campaigns were hard at work trying to secure an advantage.
    Bonita Mersiades, who was working on Australia's 2022 bid, recalled how the 2010 Zurich vote
    was awash with spooks engaged in espionage. "The intelligence agencies that were there
    said it was really noticeable when the Russians turned up because no one could hear or see
    anything." The Russians, she explained, "had jammed everyone else's devices."
    But that doesn't mean that the English bid was whiter than white. A former MI6 man had
    been hired to "gather intelligence" on the rival bids, and had seen Chelsea owner
    Roman Abramovich being employed to secure a Russian World Cup in 2018.
    "Roman [Abramovich] was absolutely integral to the Russian bid,' the ex-MI6 agent later
    said whilst also claiming that an agreement had been struck long before between Qatar
    and Russia as part of a huge natural gas deal.
    'I remember seeing him [Abramovich] attending private meetings with Sepp Blatter in South
    Africa and thinking to myself, "We don't do that, so we are fucked . . . " Roman
    was very visible. Any suggestion that he paid money, I don't know. The way he operates,
    you'd never find out. '
    The ex MI6 man was later revealed to be Christopher Steele, a Russia expert and former Moscow
    bureau chief who was also the author of the so-called Trump Dossier, a salacious document
    that contained lurid alleations of Donald Trump's relationship with Russia.
    When the votes came in, it wasn't even close. England was eliminated in the first round
    with just two votes, one of them presumably from England's ExCo member Geoff Thompson.
    Russia won on the next round of voting with 13 out of 22 votes (Two ExCo members Reynald
    Temarii and Amos Adamu were suspended when a Sunday Times sting suggested they had been
    open to selling their votes). Qatar had also secured the bid.
    Afterwards, a delighted Vladimir Putin announced that Abramovich would be paying for some of
    the stadiums to be built. "I don't rule out that Mr Abramovich may take part in one
    of these projects," he said. "Let him open his wallet a little. It's no big deal
    – he won't feel the pinch. He has plenty of money."
    The fallout was huge. Figures within the failed England bid would use Parliamentary privilege
    to regal stories of how FIFA Ex Co members had demanded outlandish bribes. A Qatari whistleblower
    claimed $1.5million had been paid in bribes, but she later, bizarrely, recanted her version
    of events. The Sunday Times reported that Mohamed Bin Hammam had operated a slush fund
    to secure World Cup votes.
    American lawyer Michael Garcia was appointed by FIFA to investigate the corruption allegations.
    When the report was released (long after Garcia had resigned over FIFA's attempts to shut
    the report down) it cleared both Russia and Qatar but found the England bid to have been
    in breach.
    Although that might not tell the full story of Russia's bid. FIFA's ethics committee
    asked to see the Russian federation's computers. They refused, saying that they had only borrowed
    the computers and they had all now been destroyed anyway.
    In the aftermath, dozens of FIFA officials were indicted in a US racketeering case (a
    round up which famously began at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich) whilst others were
    banned from football, including Platini and Blatter. Well over half of the 24 person ExCo
    have been indicted or banned from the game.
    When Blatter was removed after losing the 2015 FIFA presidential election (and then
    being suspended from FIFA) Blatter later told the Russian news agency TASS that it had been
    agreed beforehand that Russia would get 2018 and the US 2022. But Platini, he says, had
    thrown a spanner in the works.
    "For the World Cups it was agreed that we go to Russia because it's never been in Russia,
    eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to America. And so we will have the World Cup
    in the two biggest political powers. And everything was good until the moment when Sarkozy came
    in a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar. And at a lunch
    afterwards with Mr Platini he said it would be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed
    all pattern," Blatter said. Platini admitted he had voted for Qatar but has always denied
    voting under pressure for political reasons.
    Vladimir Putin was, of course, delighted to have won and has stuck by Blatter. "We know
    the pressure that was exerted on him [Blatter] with the aim of banning the 2018 World Cup
    in Russia," Putin said after Blatter was suspended, suggesting that he was being targeted
    by sore losers in England and the US.
    The World Cup is a few days away now. And there are perhaps other issues rather than
    corruption to worry about when it comes to Russia 2018; the erosion of democracy, the
    persecution of the LGBT community, and a continued low level war in Eastern Ukraine.
    But, such was the mess around that day in Zurich. The rules were changed. Now, every
    FIFA member would get a vote. And they are about to do it again with FIFA voting on the
    hosts of the 2026 World Cup on the eve of the finals. This time it is USA versus Morocco.
    But the change in format hasn't made it any less controversial. US President Donald Trump's
    harsh meteoritic on migrants, especially from the Muslim world, seemed to alienate America's
    voting base, handing the advantage to Morocco.
    But then Trump tweeted out a threat:
    "The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup.
    It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid.
    Why should we be supporting these countries when they don't support us (including at
    the United Nations)?"
    As ever, football, FIFA, the World Cup and hard politics are never far away.
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