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Posted at 8:22 AM ET, 12/ 3/2010

World Cup bid voting patterns make no sense

By Jeff Maurer

Congratulations to Qatar's one million people: I hope you enjoy hosting the world's largest sporting event. You have 12 years to build stadiums and a soccer tradition. You will burn an ungodly amount of fossil fuels air conditioning 12 stadiums, but the one thing you have is an ungodly amount of fossil fuels.

We have no proof that FIFA is corrupt the same way that we have no proof that Barry Bonds took steroids. What we do know is that FIFA makes some very strange decisions and that they hate transparency. They did, however, release the results of each round of voting, and it helps you understand why they hate transparency so much. The voting patterns make no sense. Look at this:

2022 round 1: 

Australia: 1
Japan: 3
Korea Republic: 4
Qatar: 11
USA: 3

(Australia eliminated)

Okay, let me stop you right there - who's voting for Korea and Japan? They were universally recognized as weak bids, and yet they get a combined seven votes to a combined four votes for the USA and Australia? What's going on? But it gets even more strange:

2022 round 2: 

Japan: 2 
Korea Republic: 5 
Qatar: 10 
USA: 5 

(Japan eliminated)

Now this really doesn't make sense. Remember, only one vote from the previous round was now up for grabs (Australia's), so why all the shifting? The equation was almost identical to the first round. And yet, people were changing their minds. It looks like somebody probably switched from Japan to Korea...why? What changed in that voter's mind between round 1 and round 2? You could speculate that if a voter has a second-favorite, and he (no gender-neutral pronoun necessary...they're all men) feels like his first choice is going down, then he might switch to his second choice. But Japan was really in no worse of a spot than Korea or the U.S., so why would the voter change? It only makes sense if he knows that the Australia vote is going to the U.S. (and it looks like that Australia vote probably did go to the U.S.) and he wants to make sure that Korea stays in the running. But remember: this is supposed to be a secret ballot...they're not supposed to KNOW who was the Australia vote. And it looks like somebody also jumped ship from Qatar to the U.S. in round 2...again, why? If Qatar's your first choice, then why wouldn't you stick with Qatar when they're one vote away from an absolute majority? I don't get it. Am I not seeing something? Any behavioral economists reading this who can make sense of this pattern?

2018 had similar vote shifting, although it's a bit easier to explain: it looks like two of the four Netherlands/Belgium backers in the first round jumped ship and backed Russia over Spain. Still very odd, though, that England, the only country to meet FIFA's revenue projections, got doubled up by the dark horse Netherlands/Belgium bid. 

None of this is evidence of corruption - in fact, I don't think it's even circumstantial evidence of corruption. But I do think it's evidence of some very strange - I would say illogical - decision making. Just what criteria was most important to the voters? Bringing the World Cup to new locations? Okay...then why no love for Australia, and why so many votes for Spain, Japan and Korea? Also, it was ex-England and ex-Korea voters who put Russia and Qatar over the top. The voters gave a surprising number of votes to the Belgium/Netherlands "green World Cup" bid...and then gave the 2022 Cup to Qatar and it's air-conditioned, disposable stadiums. Obviously, FIFA seemed completely unimpressed by many of the elements that countries were asked to present in their bids, such as stadium infrastructure, travel infrastructure, and attendance projections. The main knock on Australia was it's time zone, but Korea and Japan did surprisingly well. The main knock on the U.S. was the distance between cities, but 2018 went to Russia. I can't find a pattern here.

Check that: I can't find a logical pattern. The cynic in me has no trouble whatsoever explaining the vote.

Sorry this post wasn't funny. I'll make the next one funny.

By Jeff Maurer  | December 3, 2010; 8:22 AM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer, Soccer, United  | Tags:  Jeff Maurer, U.S. National soccer team, United  
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Thanks Jeff. Just what I was thinking.

Posted by: Matte | December 3, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Sheesh FIFA, if you're going to do something shady, at least take the time to make it look legitimate.

Posted by: markbalt | December 3, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Qatar promises that the stadiums will be carbon-neutral. So, while they may burn "an ungodly amount of fossil fuel" to air condition outdoor stadiums in the desert, they will use fossil fuel money to buy an ungodly amount of carbon credits.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | December 3, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I think you've got it. There's no logical explanation that points to Qatar.

Posted by: JkR- | December 3, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

If not corruption, then apparently what won it for Qatar was an extremely cool video presentation (see Goff's blog on this at:

Glitz may have been the deciding factor.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | December 3, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

@I-270 exit: good point. And those carbon credits will be paid for with revenue from the sale of petroleum products, which I assume would require the purchase of additional carbon credits, to be paid for by petroleum products, and so on and so on until eventually the gorillas freeze to death (Simpsons-geek reference).

Posted by: JeffMaurer | December 3, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Even more absurd is that more people voted for Korea and Japan than for the U.S. despite the fact that Korea and Japan jointly hosted a more recent World Cup (2002) than the U.S.

Yet I thought the election of our Wonderful, Gracious, and Peace Loving Dear Leader two years ago was supposed to make the rest of the world love us once again???

Posted by: CapsNut | December 3, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I think CapsNut is Randal'Thor's sock puppet... ;)

Posted by: DadRyan | December 3, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Jeff, this is all politics and purchased votes. First off the main thread in the background is that there are three challangers for the FIFA presidency. Teixeira, Chung and Bin Hamman. BH has sworn off the presidency to focus on the Qatar bid in a supposed deal with Blatter. That's why Blatter was all pro-Qatar three months ago. Then BH makes a deal with CONMEBOL for all their votes. It's now apparent that he made a deal with everybody out there to be bought hence his 11 votes. Blatter gets all nervous because CONMEBOL is Teixeira's territory and starts backing Chung's Korean bid two months ago. Chung would have loved to get the World Cup because he wants to run for Korea's presidency. Anyway he also got Hyundai to be FIFA's official car. Chung's family owns Hyundai. So Blatter threw all his weight behind Korea. Platini probably voted for Korea since he's a big Blatter backer.
Japan was probably backed by Thompson and some other European voter since it's obvious that the Warner didn't make a deal with them for '18.

The vote that Qatar lost in the second round would be Salguero. There's been weird noise that his vote was bought. Anyway, It looks like he saw the unexpected weakness in the US vote and rushed to vote there since he didn't want to be blamed for losing the WC for CONCACAF. People in Guatemala would have killed him for that. He probably stayed there until the very last round.

I believe that Qatar started off with all the West African(2), Muslim(3), South American(3) votes plus Thailand, Spain and Guatemala. Guatemala left him in the second round. He gained Japan in the third. In the final round he gained Korea, Guatemala and some European vote, probably Russia. Japan and Korea stood behind the last Asian bid since the Asian voters had all agreed to do that.

Obviously, the huge advantage Qatar had is closely tied to the fact that their bid budget was three times larger than others. I'm not too shy to suggest that all indications show that Qatar purchased all votes possible on their way to getting the World Cup.

Posted by: djescalera | December 3, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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