World Cup

Russia, Qatar awarded next World Cups

Sepp Blatter PI
Sepp Blatter gives Russians and the world the big news in Zurich.
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FIFA sent the World Cup into uncharted territory Thursday, handing the 2018 edition to Russia and going to Qatar in 2022.

Russia's selection came despite the no-show of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but his influence still had an impact on FIFA's 22 voters as the bid won over England, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands.

Qatar brings the World Cup to the smallest host ever but one which has huge financial clout to stage the world's biggest single-sport event. It overcame objections about holding the games in desert heat. It beat the United States in the final round of voting 14-8.

"We go to new lands," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.

Often derided as a conservative organization, the decisions were a big gamble for FIFA, which could have gone for assured sporting and commercial success by handing the event to England and the United States.

Yet despite some criticism in FIFA study reports last month of the Russian and Qatar bids, it decided to go deep into Eastern Europe and right into the Persian Gulf.

Following corruption allegations that led to two of the 24 FIFA executive committee members being excluded from the vote, the daring decisions that challenged conventional knowledge are bound to be controversial.

England was eliminated in the first round of 2018 voting, earning only two of the 22 votes. In the second round, Russia won an absolute majority with 13 votes.

"It is a great victory," said Russian bid CEO Alexey Sorokin, whose presentation promises to build 13 stadiums while three will be renovated.

Transport logistics, however, will be a huge challenge with stadiums from northern St. Petersburg close to Finland to southern 2014 Olympic winter host Sochi close to Georgia, from Kaliningrad close to Poland to Yekaterinburg on Asia's doorstep.

Putin immediately hopped on a plane to Zurich to congratulate the bid team after hearing the result.

After three days of high anxiety when England sent Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham for intense lobbying and the United States counted on the aura of former President Bill Clinton, none were a match for the novelty promised by Qatar and Russia.

"Thank you for believing in change," said Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

Qatar will stage a World Cup in and around Doha in a desert summer but promises state-of-the-art technology to cool fans and players alike.

FIFA medical chief Michel D'Hooghe is preparing a report on playing in heat and other extreme circumstances but would not take a stand on Thursday.

"I have to think it over and discuss it with people at the right moment," the Belgian said.

For the 1994 World Cup in the United States, D'Hooghe was severely critical of playing at midday and in the afternoon in places like Florida, Texas and California.

After the elimination of Australia, Japan and South Korea, it came down to a duel between the United States, promising huge commercial spoils in a key growth market, and the new territory of the Gulf region, still flush with riches despite the global financial crisis.

At malls in Doha, people gathered at electronic shops to watch the voting on television. On a busy Thursday night, the stores and restaurants were at a standstill as the vote was announced. And then came the huge roar when Blatter pulled "Qatar" out of the envelope.

Qataris and others - including workers from south Asia - immediately started dancing in the streets along Doha's Gulf waterfront. Some blew the vuvuzelas that became synonymous with the World Cup in South Africa.

"We have worked very hard over past two years to get to this point," Al-Thani said. "Today we celebrate, but tomorrow, the work begins. We acknowledge there is a lot of work for us to do, but we also stand by our promise that we will deliver."

All through its lobbying effort, Qatar stressed that the compact nation had the money, resources and high-technology to overcome any logistical objections.

The tournament would be held when temperatures in Qatar typically exceed 48 degrees C (118 degrees F). FIFA highlighted the potential risk posed by the heat.

Qatar, though, pointed out that World Cups in Mexico 1986 and United States 1994 also faced massive heat and both were big sporting successes.

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Qatar is promising to spend $50 billion on infrastructure upgrades and $4 billion to build nine stadiums and renovate three others. No stadium would be more than an hour apart, while many would be dismantled and sections would be sent to poor nations.

In the wake of the successful hosting of the World Cup in the once-divided South Africa, one of Qatar's strongest arguments is that the tournament would have a transformational effect in the region.

Russia said the choice would have a similar effect on its nation as a whole.

Few gave the Russian bid much of a chance after the charismatic Putin unexpectedly pulled out of the final presentation despite presenting himself all along as a personal guarantor of the bid.

Still, it came through, partly relying on strong government guarantees from Moscow and, like Qatar, able to underwrite funding by its huge natural energy reserves.

After arriving in Zurich strongly favored to win, Russian bid officials spent Wednesday denying suggestions that Putin's absence revealed fading confidence. Putin reportedly will fly to Switzerland to join the celebrations.

Russia's deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov appealed to FIFA's sense of football's power to change society and likened the choice to the "very brave and wise decision" of awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.

"We are building a new Russia," Putin's deputy said. "We can achieve this better and quicker with your help."

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