For the first time ever, it took four rounds of voting to decide a World Cup host. When the process had played itself out, Qatar became the most unlikely World Cup host in the history of the event. Surprisingly, they were ahead from the first ballot.
When FIFA took it's first poll, Qatar received 11 of the 12 votes needed to win. The next highest vote-getter was four: South Korea. Japan and the United States each got three, and the second-favorite going into the day, Australia, was eliminated with a single vote. Australia, a supposed dark horse, was gone on the first ballot.
Tracking the Voting
The longest voting session in history was three rounds, prior to today. Balloting for the 2022 World Cup wasn't decided until the vote was down to two bids, a process that went four rounds. Ultimately, the bid that nearly won it on the first ballot was the clear winner.
But stop and consider those totals for a moment. The United States and Australia - hailed by most as the two most ready nations - combined to get as much support as South Korea, a bid that was supposed to be an also-ran. Once we read that, everything we knew about the bidding process and the strength of the proposals goes out the window. Clearly, the information the press has been feeding us over the last two years is way off base. The U.S. isn't a favorite. The U.S. barely makes the second ballot.
Thankfully, on that second ballot, Qatar doesn't pick up the vote it needs to win. In fact, it loses a vote, as does Japan, while the United States picks up two. How does this happen? Did somebody change their mind on a proposal after round one? Hardly. Those oddities are likely the result of some type of deal that got Japan and Qatar votes for only one one round. Perhaps votes exchanged in the 2018 balloting allowed Qatar to make a one-round push for the quick knock-out while Japan tried to survive to the less predictable later rounds.
Some will read that and say "this process is corrupt. People should be voting on the merits of the bid." Yes, and that would make World Cup voting the one place in the world where some kind of altruistic letter of the law is followed. If you want to argue that people should be respecting the ideals of the process, that's fine. Know you're talking about a hypothetical world that's never existed, a place where every item sells for exactly what it's worth and I can dunk a basketball while being applauded by Heidi Klum. Please, please - take me there.
In the world we live in, Japan was eliminated in round two. Surprisingly, neither of their two votes went to South Korea. One went to Qatar and the other want to the U.S., meaning the United States needed to get every single one of Korea's five orphaned votes just to tie Qatar in round four.
That's how much Qatar had going for them the once the voting started. Everything would have had to break against them in order for them to lose. Whatever the merits of their proposal - a proposal some absolutely loved by some, abhorred by others - they clearly put in their work. They lapped a field that saw none of the other proposals get more the four votes in round one. It was a slaughter. Were it not for the quantity of bids, everybody else would have been mercy-ruled.
Bag on the Qataris if you want, but the real question that the Untied States and Australia should ask is "what went wrong?" Qatar wasn't Barcelona today, but the U.S. and Australia were practically Real Madrid. They got worked, and they need to figure out what the hell happened.