Vote trading occurred when FIFA's executive committee awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. That's both a statement of what's been common knowledge and a report this evening out of England, where a Sepp Blatter interview with the BBC led to the FIFA president's confirmation that deals were make between groups bidding for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
The 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia in December. On the same day, Qatar was awarded the 2022 tournament. Both decisions were received harshly by the English-language press, particularly in England and the United States, nations whose bids to host the tournaments failed to win the approval of the executive committee.
Per the BBC's interview (in comments published this evening at The Telegraph), Blatter says the Spain-Portugal group (2018 bidders) was acting in conjunction with the Qataris, creating a block of votes that supported Spain-Portugal for 2018, Qatar for 2022:
"I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar," Blatter said. "But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side."
Paul Kelso, reporting for The Telegraph, tries to provide reason to question Blatter's assertion, though the logic is less salient than descriptive. Noting that the Spain-Portugal bid received seven votes in the 2018 process, Kelso extrapolates what similar influence may have done for the 2022 decision:
If, as Blatter claimed yesterday, Qatar received the same seven votes, it provided more than half of the 12 they required to win.
Whether Blatter or Kelso feel the block influenced the outcomes is likely irrelevant, for a couple of reasons. First, it's unlikely that we'll ever have enough certain information to examine the voting with the necessary detail. Even if we had interviews with every executive committee member, there would be reason to question if, with time to consider the outcomes and reactions, motives and stories have changed since the time of the vote. Even after committee member Chuck Blazer tried to confirm he voted for the United States, some questioned whether he was telling the truth.
Second (and more to the point), people likely to be enraged by this quasi-revelation are likely people who already believed FIFA is run by Swiss Sopranos, England and the United States should form their own governing body (presumably playing two nation Word Cups), and nothing like this has ever happened before, be it in FIFA or any other organization that engages in political processes as a means of making decisions. It makes it much easier to stomach U.S. Soccer losing to Qatar if it's a product of an irrational process.
That the process may actually be irrational is what will keep this story alive for 11 more years. Are you ready for it? Over a decade of brooding? The festering discontent of false expectations, survived by a constant stream of revelations, stoking sentiment set to be projected onto each hint of ill-preparedness we hear from Qatar between now and 2022?
Last month, it was indignation about a January World Cup (FIFA should have to revote!) This month, it's vote trading. What ever angle comes with March's iteration of this meme, I'm sure it will get mention in this space.