Russia, Qatar To Host 2018, 2022 World Cups

Two surprise decisions were issued in the world of international soccer on Thursday. The sport's governing body, FIFA, decided the 2022 World Cup will be held in the tiny Persian Gulf country of Qatar. It beat the likes of Australia, Japan and South Korea as well as the U.S. to hold the first international sporting event of this size to take place in the Middle East. And the 2018 decision was another surprise — Russia will hold that competition, beating such soccer luminaries as England, Spain and the Netherlands.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, host:

And I'm Guy Raz.

And we begin this hour with soccer. When we talk about the sport, Russia and the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar don't usually come to mind. But today, both countries earned the right to be the center of the soccer universe for one summer each. FIFA, the sport's international governing body, named them hosts of the World Cup. Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. While those countries celebrate, the losing bidders, including legendary powerhouse England, not to mention the United States, are crying foul.

NPR's David Greene has the story.

Mr. SETH BLATTER (President, FIFA): So, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 2018 FIFA World Cup, ladies and gentlemen, will be organized in Russia.

(Soundbite of cheering)

DAVID GREENE: That announcement from FIFA president, Seth Blatter, wasn't a shock. Russia is a world power with millions of sports fans. They've hosted the Olympics, why not a chance for the World Cup? This was the surprise...

Mr. BLATTER: The winner to organize the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: The head of Qatar's delegation, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, went up on stage at the ceremony in Zurich.

Sheikh MOHAMMED BIN HAMAD AL-THANI (Qatar): Thank you for believing in expanding the game. Thank you for giving Qatar a chance. And we will not let you down. You will be proud of us. You will be proud of the Middle East, and I promise you this.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: The Middle East is getting its first World Cup, following Africa, which had its first shot this year. As FIFA's president put it...

Mr. BLATTER: We go to new lands.

GREENE: Which is little consolation to England, a country that lost out to Russia, or the U.S., which lost the 2022 bid to Qatar. President Obama called the decision wrong and former U.S. national soccer star Eric Wynalda said Qatar, a desert country with 1.7 million people, will struggle to host the tournament. Oil and natural gas won today, Wynalda told the Associated Press. This was not about merit. This was about money.

Qatar does have gas and money, and it's vowing to spend billions of dollars to build stadiums and anything else that's needed. The streets of Doha were alive tonight with celebrations that drowned out Al-Jazeera sports correspondent Joanna Gasiorowska.

(Soundbite of celebration)

Ms. JOANNA GASIOROWSKA (Sports Correspondent, Al-Jazeera): (unintelligible) around here. Some of the people - this place is sold out.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: Those streets can get up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in June, which could be Qatar's biggest challenge come 2022. The bidding committee has promised air conditioned stadiums. Russia, of course, can get as cold as Qatar gets hot. That explains why not so many people were on the streets of Moscow cheering tonight. There was 39-year-old former Soviet military officer Victor Midrilots(ph) outside a subway station.

Mr. VICTOR MIDRILOTS: (Speaking Russian)

GREENE: I didn't believe it up to the last moment, he says. We should, with honor, raise the flag of Russia and show the world what we're worth.

(Soundbite of crowd)

GREENE: Inside a warmer bar, a group of celebratory soccer fans were wondering aloud whether their country will live up to its reputation as corrupt and World Cup investment will land in the wrong hands. At least 22-year-old Dmitri Gulkin(ph) was trying to stay positive.

Mr. DMITRI GULKIN: (Speaking Russian)

GREENE: We'll get a lot of tourists, he said. Maybe they'll finally improve the roads.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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