Russia has just finished their presentation, being the final of the 2018 aspirants to make their case to the FIFA Executive Committee. While it included a jibe at the dry (read: boring) Spain/Portugal presentation, the Russians missed too many opportunities to highlight their ability to keep state department secrets. I guess they're not as mad about the whole WikiLeaks thing as they're letting on.
The committee now retires to start the voting. We wait to judge the smoke. If it's white, the voting continues. It's red, white and blue, that means the U.S., if it's the 2022 voting. Else, it's Russia. Who'd have ever thought we'd have that in common? The decisions are expected to be announced at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Here how the voting works. For both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, each Executive Committee member will vote for one of the proposals. Twelve votes are required for a proposal to win. If a round of voting passes without a proposal getting that majority, the least supported bid will be eliminated and another round of voting commences. If the final round of voting ends in a tie, FIFA President Sepp Blatter will cast the deciding vote.
While voting to decide the last World Cup host took only one round, it is likely each of the 2018 and 2022 hosts will need more than one round to be identified. Back in 2004, 2010 host South Africa was chosen on the first ballot by a 14-10 margin over Morocco (Egypt got no votes), But that ballot bears few similarities to today's, given South Africa had narrowly and controversially lost the 2006 World Cup's vote four years earlier. For that Cup, balloting took three rounds to chose Germany, who won 12-11 on a third ballot when one FIFA member, thought to likely to vote for South Africa, abstained.
That vote, which took place in July 2000, is the best analog for today's ballots. Where the 2014 ballot saw Brazil run unopposed in a South America-only race (and the 2010 selection was limited to African nations), today's votes will be more competitive. The 2018 selections have been narrowed to a European field, both the presence of three competitive bids makes two-to-three ballots probable. The 2022 ballot sees one CONCACAF proposal (the United States') competing with four Asian bids.
The United States is still considered the favorite for that Cup, though Japan's 3D heavy presentation has opened some eyes. But the Japanese are considered a fourth favorite, at best, in large part because they were co-hosts for the 2002 tournament. South Korea, who shared hosting rights in 2002, are even longer shots. The States' chief competition is Qatar, whose main virtue is Sepp Blatter's understood intent to take soccer to new places. Should he take it to the Arabian Peninsula, the tournament will have to deal with unprecedented heat issues, one of the reasons why Australia has emerged as many's non-U.S. choice.
This morning the 2018 aspirants made their case to the executive committee. That field's comprised of a Netherlands-Belgium joint-bid, a similar proposal from Spain-Portugal, England's much discussed candidacy, as well as Russia, the acknowledged favorite. The Netherlands-Belgium presentation came first, a presentation leaning heavily on Dutch soccer iconography and the idea of a greener World Cup (two million bicycles to be made available). The Spain-Portugal presentation, said to be a bit boring, was dignitary-heavy, emphasizing their proposal has support from all confederations (better phrased as "some support"). England's presentation featured the trifecta of Prince William, David Cameron, and David Beckham, with a video that used the power of Premier League celebrities like Alex Ferguson. The final presentation, Russia's, was "dream" themed, talking about what the tournament would mean to a country that's never hosted the tournament.
Early reviews hint England's presentation was today's most convincing. The good reviews also include an allusion to it not mattering. Undoubtedly, committee members knew where they were voting before these final arguments began.
Those members have now retired to their chimney'd room. Consultants from the Vatican are advising on the colored smoke. The proceedings have begun, and in two-and-a-half hours (at 10 a.m. Eastern) we'll know where the next two Cups are going. While I love the idea of smoke signals rising from the Zurich compound, telling the world of the committee's choice, word is they're going to straight out tell us.
Again, such a missed opportunity.