This is an April Fools Day article – please do not take literally.
The move is expected to be made public within the next week, The Roar can reveal, after obtaining copies of correspondence between FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and a powerful Australian lobby group including Football Federation Australia chief Frank Lowy, former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, and Channel Nine figurehead Eddie McGuire.
The unprecedented step of stripping a nation of its hosting rights is ostensibly due to revelations of corruption and misinformation in the Qatari bid.
But it comes at the same time as Qatari football head Mohammad bin Hammam has launched a move to topple Blatter from football’s top job.
Of the labyrinthine wrangling that went on as the bids were assessed, one of the most important deals was bin Hammam reportedly securing Blatter’s support in return for an agreement not to run for the presidency.
With the World Cup seemingly in the bag, bin Hammam reneged on the deal.
The turnaround left Blatter drained. But he’s now decided not to take it lying down.
The first rumblings began in February, when bin Hammam suggested an Asian candidate should take on the presidency. Nine days later, Blatter’s personal assistant wrote to Lowy.
In the light of “serious issues that are currently under investigation,” the message said, a back-up venue for the 2022 tournament needed to be chosen.
As the second-placed bid behind Qatar, the United States was the logical option, but talks with the USSF “were not able to progress beyond a preliminary level.”
It is understood that political considerations were key: given the current tension between the US and the Arab world, the country could ill afford to be seen to be taking a World Cup from a Middle Eastern nation.
In the meantime, bin Hammam stated that Blatter’s presidential nomination by the footballing powerhouse of Somalia made him a “pirate”.
Then on March 18, the Qatari officially announced his intention to challenge, and communication between Blatter and Lowy’s hastily-assembled war group skyrocketed.
On March 21, Lowy was informed that “investigations had been completed”, and that hosting of the Cup would be turned over to Australia if they could make financial and logistical guarantees.
Lowy had not been idle in the meantime, and could call on the likes of Turnbull, McGuire, and businessman Sir Rod Eddington to do just that.
Turnbull, wrote Lowy, was key, given that “a Turnbull-led Coalition government will be the strongest likely government in the coming decade.”
It is not clear whether unpopular leader Tony Abbot was aware of Turnbull’s involvement, nor whether approaches were made to current Labor figures.
McGuire had been enlisted to act as an intermediary between Lowy and AFL boss Andrew Demetriou. Within days he had drawn a commitment from Demetriou to cede priority access to any stadia required by the World Cup program.
While the Collingwood president seems an unlikely champion for Australian ‘soccer’, McGuire is understood to have been lured by the promotional opportunities that the World Cup will afford AFL.
As part of the stadium-access deal hammered out in a few desperate days, short NAB-Cup-style AFL matches will be played before World Cup games wherever possible on oval-shaped grounds.
Collingwood is understood to have a mortgage on the spot before the World Cup final, which to avoid wintry weather conditions has been brought forward two months to April 1, 2022.
For his part, Blatter confirmed on March 28 that overturning the Qatar decision was guaranteed, based on “deliberate and deceitful misconduct” on the part of bid organisers.
This included “clearly and wilfully” tampering with the feasibility studies on air-conditioning Qatar’s stadia, with the 50-degree desert heat previously considered the crucial stumbling block to the desert nation’s bid.
Subsequent enquiries had found that the data presented in the bid had been manipulated, and that even energy-rich Qatar did not have the technology to seal and cool such immense volumes, nor the power grid capability to support such an undertaking.
In order to strip Qatar of the bid, Blatter was to present to FIFA the evidence so far collected, and announce an investigation headed by former World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound. Blatter assured the FFA that this would be a formality.
“The evidence to hand is clear and compelling,” his message read.
Despite Blatter’s representations, it is hard to believe that this is a mission for justice, unrelated to the FIFA president’s need to see off a challenger. Vote-buying has been alleged for decades, yet this is the first instance in which delegates will be held to account.
In the meantime, it is now clear why Australia declined lobby group ChangeFIFA’s recent proposal to nominate a reformist challenger to Blatter and bin Hammam.
None of the parties mentioned were available or willing to comment yesterday. Just how this situation will play out remains to be seen, though it’s fairly certain that in the tangled world of FIFA, things will get uglier before they get better.
But with a particular island nation likely to end up with a World Cup out of it, one suspects that most Australians won’t really care.
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(In the spirit of the day, this is indeed an April Fools Day joke. Thanks to all for enjoying it as much as we did.)