Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



The unthinkable happened in Geneva last week. You know the scene: Picture the ornate grand ballroom of the luxurious FOUR SEASONS HOTEL. Well-dressed representatives from around the world have gathered over four days to determine who will host two upcoming WORLD CUP SOCCER TOURNAMENTS, the world's biggest sporting event. There's a lot of discussion, collaboration and secrets amongst the 22 dignitaries, all conducted under the soft light of the crystal chandeliers. Finally, after many lavish meals and countless cocktails, a decision has been made. Sepp Blatter, the chairman of FIFA, strolls to the podium with the final announcement: The 2018 games will be held in: Russia! Wow! The crowd applauds. They're an outsider for sure..but, as the world's largest nation...it was not a complete surprise. Then, Sepp announced the host nation for the 2022 games: QATAR. The room is stunned!

Actually, some are stunned, some are giddy, but many are down-right angry. The US, who finished second in the voting, spent millions of dollars preparing a bid. After all, the 1994 event, hosted by the US, was the most profitable World Cup ever! Also upset was the UK. London has brand-new stadiums already built for the 2012 Olympics. The other nations alive in the last rounds of voting were also angry. The representatives from Spain/Portugal, Holland/Belgium, South Korea, Japan and Australia were aghast. But somehow, Qatar pulled off the ultimate upset. Or was it? As evidenced by the Olympic Selection Committees, the most qualified applicant doesn't always win. Or, as Sunil Gulati, the head of the US delegation put it: "It's politics, friendships, relationships, alliances, tactics. I'm not smart enough to figure out how all those played out in these two elections."

Indeed, the voting did leave many questions. Two delegates were removed prior to the final vote for unclear corruption allegations. Back-room politics are notorious in such gatherings, as evidenced by the US envoys who pleaded guilty to influencing the decision to host the 1994 Winter Olympics. It's also no coincidence that both Russia and Qatar are huge producers of oil and natural gas which gives them lots of pocket cash to throw around. The US team tried hard to match the influence of bribes and failed. Heck, they even brought BILL CLINTON to Geneva to drink and banter with the voters. But even 'Slick Willie' was no match for the 'shady sheik. ' Qatar's Swiss bank accounts had some serious cash withdrawals last week!

But the real question here is: How the hell is Qatar supposed to host the world's biggest sporting event? It's the size of Connecticut, has the population of Phoenix and is entirely covered by the unforgiving Arabian Desert. And the WOLRD CUP is held in the SUMMER! But, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar's ruler, managed to assure that his country will be ready. It plans to build stadiums with solar-powered air conditioning. (Never mind that the technology hasn't been invented just yet!). Everything will be with A/C: the player's village, exhibition centres and all restaurants, night-clubs, airports, hotels, etc. So no one will notice that the average temperature outside in July in Qatar is 104 degrees. Quipped Chuck Blazer, a FIFA rep: "I really don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."

But...while the world is abuzz about Qatar's sleazy corruption allegations...the INTERNET is abuzz with techies, excited about the future. You gotta admit, Qatar is pretty ambitious. They plan to spend $57 billion dollars (!) building the world's first zero-carbon-emission stadium. They sheik hired a Kansas City based architecture firm with big ideas. They began with the design of a Bedouin tent. Then they added the shape of the BIRD'S NEST stadium from the Beijing Olympics. Then, they took the technology used in Japan's SUKATOMO soccer stadium and housed it all under the retracting roof from Arizona's state-of-the-art football stadium in Glendale. I could start describing the plan for the air conditioning, but you're probably better off going to WIRED.COM...I really don't understand the technology.

I guess the main message from Geneva last week is: WATCH OUT FOR QATAR! This emirate means business! The state, like nearby Dubai, has lots of money and is willing to spend it. In the last couple of years, they purchased long-time British stand-bys like HARROD 'S DEPARTMENT STORE and BARCALAY'S BANK. Next up: Financial conquest of the USA. So far, they've only managed to buy MIRAMAX FILMS, so stay tuned. And remember, the 'Q' in Arabic is pronounced like 'KHA' only you use the back part of your throat...Think "CUT-TER." May Allah be with you!

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