How Rus­sia won the World Cup

The Guardian Australia - - World News / The Long Read - Ken Bensinger

On 8 June 2010, three days be­fore the kick­off of the World Cup in South Africa, en­voys from Rus­sia and Eng­land stood out­side a meet­ing room in Jo­han­nes­burg’s Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, ner­vously wait­ing to make their pitch to host the 2018 tour­na­ment.

Their au­di­ence: elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of North, Cen­tral Amer­ica and Caribbean As­so­ci­a­tion Foot­ball, or Con­ca­caf. Fifa’s 208 mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions, each gov­ern­ing soc­cer in their coun­tries, were split be­tween six con­fed­er­a­tions. Con­ca­caf, with 35 mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions un­der its um­brella, was one of them, and it, in turn, re­ported up to Fifa. Its ter­ri­tory stretched from Panama in the south to Canada in the north, and in­cluded the US, as well as all of the Caribbean and the sparsely pop­u­lated South Amer­i­can coun­tries Suri­name and Guyana.

With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Mex­ico, the con­fed­er­a­tion’s mem­bers were not con­sid­ered par­tic­u­larly for­mi­da­ble on the soc­cer pitch – but in the cut­throat field of in­ter­na­tional soc­cer pol­i­tics, Con­ca­caf was a pow­er­house.

That in­flu­ence was largely due to Jack Warner, Con­ca­caf’s Trinida­dian pres­i­dent. Wiry, with glasses over a deeply lined face, he made a point of re­mind­ing peo­ple that he was a black man who had risen from ab­ject poverty. He was also a born politi­cian, able to whip all of his con­fed­er­a­tion’s mem­ber na­tions into a re­li­ably uni­fied vot­ing bloc at Fifa’s an­nual con­gresses. That un­ri­valed dis­ci­pline gave Con­ca­caf an out­sized in­flu­ence com­pared with other, larger soc­cer con­fed­er­a­tions, which strug­gled with in­ter­nal strife and fac­tion­al­ism, split­ting their votes, some­times sev­eral ways.

It also made Warner, 67 years old at the time, one of the most pow­er­ful and feared men in soc­cer. His po­si­tion was rarely, if ever, chal­lenged. In ex­change for the gen­er­ous dis­burse­ment of money that spilled down through him from the high­est reaches of the sport, he ex­pected his mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions to vote ex­actly as he in­structed.

Born into grind­ing poverty in ru­ral Trinidad, Warner had risen to be­come the third-rank­ing vice pres­i­dent of Fifa and the long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of its ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, or ExCo, the 24-man body tasked with mak­ing Fifa’s most im­por­tant de­ci­sions – in­clud­ing deter­min­ing where World Cups are held.

Any­one bid­ding for the tour­na­ment knew that court­ing Warner was crit­i­cal. The ExCo vote on where to host both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was to be held in Zurich on 2 De­cem­ber 2010, and with just un­der six months to go, the Con­ca­caf meet­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg was viewed as a crit­i­cal sales op­por­tu­nity.

Eng­land was pre­par­ing a bid, and was up against a num­ber of com­peti­tors. Bel­gium and the Nether­lands had teamed up to make up one ri­val bid; Spain and Por­tu­gal an­other. A host of other coun­tries were bat­tling for the rights to the 2022 World Cup, among them the US, Aus­tralia and Qatar. But Eng­land’s most for­mi­da­ble ad­ver­sary for 2018 was with­out a doubt Rus­sia.

Rus­sia had been awarded the 2014 Win­ter Olympics just 18 months ear­lier, and had been rid­ing nearly a decade of spec­tac­u­lar eco­nomic growth, thanks largely to record prices for oil and other nat­u­ral re­sources.

The coun­try, and par­tic­u­larly its leader, Vladimir Putin, had been ea­ger to take ad­van­tage of that boom to re­assert its long-re­lin­quished role as a world power. Win­ning the right to host the World Cup, watched by hun­dreds of mil­lions around the world, would un­doubt­edly be an ef­fec­tive way to help plant that idea, pro­ject­ing strength and sta­bil­ity. Most crit­i­cally, it would boost Putin’s im­age among the Rus­sian peo­ple. Los­ing the vote, for Putin, was un­think­able.

Rus­sia’s del­e­ga­tion, led by Alexey Sorokin, the Rus­sian Foot­ball Union’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, pre­sented first. It did not go well. For starters, Rus­sia’s na­tional soc­cer team had failed to qual­ify for the 2010 World Cup thanks to a hu­mil­i­at­ing loss the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber to lowly Slove­nia, a coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion only slightly larger than the Siberian city of Novosi­birsk. Rus­sia’s pre­sen­ta­tion, mean­while, was em­bar­rass­ingly marred by a glitchy Pow­erPoint dis­play that failed three times as Sorokin spoke. By com­par­i­son, Eng­land’s bid team turned in a daz­zling per­for­mance.

The English press, in a fit of un­char­ac­ter­is­tic op­ti­mism, hailed the pre­sen­ta­tion as a sign that Eng­land’s chances looked good, and that tech­ni­cal prow­ess, ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture and gen­eral com­pe­tency – merit – would win the day. The Rus­sians, how­ever, were play­ing a dif­fer­ent game.

Two days af­ter the Con­ca­caf meet­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg, Fifa held what it dubbed a “bid­ding expo”. A sort of com­mer­cial trade show for the World Cup it­self, the event pro­vided all nine coun­tries com­pet­ing for the right to host the 2018 and 2022 tour­na­ments the chance to meet del­e­gates from around the world. In par­tic­u­lar, it was an op­por­tu­nity to min­gle with nearly ev­ery ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber.

Sev­eral hours ear­lier, the bil­lion­aire owner of Chelsea FC, Ro­man Abramovich, walked into Jo­han­nes­burg’s Gal­lagher Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. He had ar­rived that day on his pri­vate jet, ac­com­pa­nied by Igor Shu­valov, Rus­sia’s first deputy prime min­is­ter.

A high-school dropout and for­mer auto me­chanic and com­modi­ties trader whose for­tune was made thanks to his staunch sup­port of Boris Yeltsin, Abramovich came to con­trol Sib­neft, one of Rus­sia’s largest oil pro­duc­ers. Sub­se­quently, he sup­ported Putin as a can­di­date to suc­ceed Yeltsin, and was richly re­warded for his loy­alty. Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and moved to Lon­don five years later, af­ter sell­ing off many of his Rus­sian hold­ings. Un­like many oli­garchs who left Rus­sia, Abramovich main­tained a close re­la­tion­ship with Putin.

As a rule, bil­lion­aires hate to wait for any­thing. But once the bid­ding expo be­gan, the nor­mally shy and re­tir­ing Abramovich, wear­ing a tai­lored char­coal suit rather than his usual jeans, made an unusu­ally en­thu­si­as­tic show of good cheer.

A smile plas­tered over his un­shaven jaw, he joined a con­tin­gent of his coun­try­men, in­clud­ing the Ar­se­nal star An­drey Ar­shavin, in the Rus­sian booth, greet­ing soc­cer of­fi­cials from around the world, and mug­ging for pho­to­graphs with David Beck­ham.

And fi­nally, when the expo was draw­ing to a close, Abramovich walked out of the hall along­side Sepp Blatter, the Swiss pres­i­dent of Fifa. With so much at­ten­tion cast in Beck­ham’s di­rec­tion, scarcely any­one even no­ticed them qui­etly de­part­ing to­gether.

Ear­lier in the day, Blatter had bragged to Fifa’s en­tire mem­ber­ship about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s record prof­its in the four years lead­ing up to 2010. He boasted of Fifa hav­ing $1bn in the bank, and grandly pledged to dis­trib­ute $250,000 to each mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tion as a bonus, plus $2.5m to each con­fed­er­a­tion. It was the kind of naked pa­tron­age that had earned him the ado­ra­tion of many of Fifa’s 208 mem­bers – a larger assem­bly than that of the United Na­tions.

As he an­nounced in a press con­fer­ence af­ter the congress con­cluded, Blatter was planning to run for a fourth con­sec­u­tive term as Fifa pres­i­dent. “We shall work for the next gen­er­a­tion,” he said, in­ten­tion­ally para­phras­ing Win­ston Churchill.

Af­ter a dozen years in of­fice, and 17 years be­fore that as gen­eral sec­re­tary, Blatter had grown acutely aware of the cost of main­tain­ing power in an or­gan­i­sa­tion as wealthy, di­verse and cut­throat as Fifa. More than any­one, he had mas­tered the darker arts of ad­min­is­ter­ing the world’s most pop­u­lar sport, and had a hand in many of its most Machi­avel­lian deals and ac­com­mo­da­tions over the years.

En­grossed in hushed con­ver­sa­tion, the unusu­ally joc­u­lar Rus­sian bil­lion­aire and the bald­ing, diminu­tive Fifa pres­i­dent rode an es­ca­la­tor up to the con­ven­tion cen­tre’s sec­ond floor. They then slipped into a pri­vate meet­ing room and qui­etly closed the door.

For those run­ning Eng­land 2018, as the bid was of­fi­cially called, it was ev­i­dent that win­ning the right to host was go­ing to depend on more than just the qual­ity of each coun­try’s sta­di­ums, air­ports and foot­ball. In or­der to gather in­tel­li­gence on the com­pet­ing bids, the in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies sup­port­ing Eng­land’s bid had hired a for­mer spy who had spent sev­eral years un­der­cover in Moscow in the early 1990s, and then taken up a se­nior post on the Rus­sia desk at MI6 head­quar­ters in Lon­don. His name was Christo­pher Steele.

His task, he said, was to help Eng­land 2018 “bet­ter un­der­stand what they were up against, and what they were up against was a com­pletely alien way of do­ing busi­ness”. In the spring of 2010, not long af­ter sources be­gan say­ing that Putin had sud­denly taken a strong per­sonal in­ter­est in the bid, Steele be­gan hear­ing a string of cu­ri­ous and trou­bling ru­mours.

In April, Rus­sia’s deputy prime min­is­ter, Igor Sechin, went to Qatar to dis­cuss a mas­sive nat­u­ral gas ex­trac­tion pro­ject. That same month, Rus­sia’s World Cup bid team also trav­elled there. One of Steele’s best sources said the tim­ing was no co­in­ci­dence, and that on top of mas­sive gas deals, the emis­saries were col­lud­ing to swap World Cup votes. Rus­sia, the the­ory went, would pledge its ExCo mem­ber’s vote for 2022 to Qatar, and Qatar would prom­ise that, in ex­change, its ExCo mem­ber would pick Rus­sia for 2018.

Other sources, mean­while, be­gan whis­per­ing that Rus­sian bid of­fi­cials had taken valu­able paint­ings from the Her­mitage Mu­seum in St Peters­burg and of­fered them to ExCo mem­bers in ex­change for votes.

When Steele re­ported his find­ings, mem­bers of the bid team were pre­dictably alarmed. Eng­land was doomed, Steele felt cer­tain; it was never go­ing to beat a coun­try like Rus­sia, which was clearly pre­pared to do any­thing to avoid a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat on the world stage. But the for­mer spy then had a sec­ond thought. The in­for­ma­tion he had been de­vel­op­ing on Rus­sia and Fifa was highly spe­cific, but also unique and po­ten­tially valu­able – per­haps ex­tremely so. It would be a shame to see it go to waste. And it just so hap­pened that Steele could think of an­other po­ten­tial client for that in­for­ma­tion: the FBI.

A thin crust of icy snow coated the grounds of Fifa’s Zurich head­quar­ters early on 2 De­cem­ber 2010, as mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee ar­rived to cast per­haps the most im­por­tant votes in soc­cer his­tory. With­out stop­ping, they glided past se­cu­rity in black chauf­feur-driven Mercedes S-Class sedans, then down a long ramp lead­ing di­rectly into the bow­els of the build­ing.

There they alighted on the third sub­floor with­out ever hav­ing to step out­side or be ob­served by the crowds of jour­nal­ists who had been gath­er­ing at the en­trance since be­fore dawn. The build­ing, known in soc­cer cir­cles as Fifa House, was an im­pos­ing sym­bol of what the once hum­ble sports gov­ern­ing body had be­come.

De­signed by a noted Swiss ar­chi­tect and cost­ing more than $200m, the build­ing, opened in 2007, pre­sented a cold, in­scrutable fa­cade of shiny glass cov­ered by steel mesh, set so far back from perime­ter fences and guard posts that it could not be seen from the street.

Some­times called an “un­der­ground skyscraper,” five of Fifa House’s eight floors were sub­ter­ranean, and the build­ing’s grand lobby, redo­lent in con­trast­ing pol­ished and rough-hewn stone, was qui­etly dec­o­rated with ex­pen­sively dis­creet flow­ers. The aes­thetic was rig­or­ously Swiss, with al­most no adorn­ment any­where, but it was clear that no ex­pense had been spared.

The beat­ing heart of both build­ing and in­sti­tu­tion was found on the third sub­level. There sat the ex­ec­u­tive board­room, where Fifa’s ExCo made soc­cer’s most crit­i­cal de­ci­sions. It was a room within a room – a dark, im­pen­e­tra­ble war cham­ber ripped from some cold war po­lit­i­cal drama, with tall, curved walls sheathed in ham­mered alu­minum and floors of pol­ished lapis lazuli. Black-stained oak desks were ar­rayed in a large square be­neath a mas­sive crys­tal chan­de­lier in the oval form of a sta­dium bowl.

No sun­light was al­lowed to pen­e­trate the en­clo­sure, Blatter ex­plained on oc­ca­sion of the build­ing’s open­ing, be­cause “places where peo­ple make de­ci­sions should con­tain only

in­di­rect light”.

At the turn of the 20th cen­tury, the soar­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the rel­a­tively new sport of soc­cer led to de­mand for matches be­tween clubs from dif­fer­ent na­tions. But the way the sport was played var­ied enor­mously from place to place, and the need for a sin­gle or­gan­is­ing body that could en­sure fair matches be­tween coun­tries grew in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent.

Bri­tain’s four na­tional soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tions, which viewed them­selves as the sport’s in­ven­tors and great­est prac­ti­tion­ers, were un­in­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting to a higher au­thor­ity. Eng­land’s Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, then al­ready 40 years old, was par­tic­u­larly scep­ti­cal, writ­ing dourly that it “can­not see the ad­van­tages of such a fed­er­a­tion”, and re­fus­ing to have any­thing to do with it.

Un­daunted, seven con­ti­nen­tal groups – rep­re­sent­ing France, Bel­gium, Den­mark, the Nether­lands, Spain, Swe­den and Switzer­land – met in the back room of a Parisian sports club on 21 May 1904, and de­cided to or­gan­ise with­out the Brits.

They called their non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion the Fédéra­tion Internationale de Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, and by join­ing, the pi­o­neer­ing of­fi­cials pledged to ad­here ex­clu­sively to its statutes, giv­ing it supreme au­thor­ity over the sport. Ev­ery­one was to play the game by the same set of rules. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, Fifa would de­mand ab­so­lute al­le­giance from its mem­bers, and the com­plete ex­clu­sion of any soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tions that did not prove to be faith­ful mem­bers of the club.

Within a few months, Ger­many agreed to pay the an­nual mem­ber­ship fee of 50 French francs, and be­fore long Eng­land, Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land all joined, too. South Africa be­came the first non-Eu­ro­pean mem­ber, af­fil­i­at­ing in 1909; Ar­gentina and Chile joined in 1912; and the US en­tered the fold the fol­low­ing year.

In 1928, un­der pres­sure from its mem­bers to cre­ate a tour­na­ment that would ri­val the pop­u­lar­ity of soc­cer at the Olympics, while also ad­mit­ting pro­fes­sional play­ers – which the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee did not –Fifa an­nounced plans for the first World Cup.

Five coun­tries sub­mit­ted bids to host. But Uruguay’s soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tion, which had won gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, of­fered to cover the travel costs of vis­it­ing teams, to build a huge new sta­dium at its own ex­pense, and to share any prof­its with Fifa, while ab­sorb­ing all the risk of a fi­nan­cial loss by it­self.

“These ar­gu­ments,” Fifa later noted, “were de­ci­sive.” Un­will­ing or un­able to make such fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments, the other coun­tries dropped their bids, and 13 na­tions ul­ti­mately com­peted in the first World Cup, which was an in­stant hit. On 30 July 1930, nearly 70,000 fans filled Mon­te­v­ideo’s brand-new Es­ta­dio Cen­te­nario to watch Uruguay de­feat Ar­gentina 4–2 in the fi­nal.

The event’s surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity did not, how­ever, net sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial gains for many years. For its first sev­eral decades, Fifa per­sisted largely thanks to fees paid by its mem­bers, plus small com­mis­sions charged on ticket sales at in­ter­na­tional matches. It gave away, free of charge, the broad­cast rights to its first tele­vised World Cup, held in Switzer­land in 1954, and even at the 1974 World Cup in West Ger­many, the ma­jor­ity of tour­na­ment rev­enue still came from ticket sales.

That rapidly changed with the ad­vent of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ad­ver­tis­ing, and soon tele­vi­sion and spon­sor­ship deals far out­stripped gate in­come. Be­cause such a large share of Fifa’s rev­enue be­gan to de­rive from the World Cup, the non­profit opted to mea­sure its fi­nances in four-year cy­cles con­clud­ing with the cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment.

The cy­cle end­ing with the 1974 World Cup net­ted a tidy profit of just un­der $20m. For the 2007–2010 pe­riod cul­mi­nat­ing in South Africa, Fifa booked a record profit of $631m, and Fifa’s cash re­serves reached nearly $1.3bn. The World Cup had be­come the largest and most lu­cra­tive sport­ing event in his­tory.

When in Zurich, FIFA ExCo mem­bers stayed at the Baur au Lac, a 165-year-old monument to the very Swiss aes­thetic of ex­pen­sive un­der­state­ment. The ho­tel, on the banks of Lake Zurich, prides it­self on ab­so­lute dis­cre­tion, but does ad­mit to hav­ing put up, among oth­ers, Haile Se­lassie, Em­press Elis­a­beth of Aus­tria and Kaiser Wil­helm II.

Dur­ing Fifa meet­ings, the men con­trol­ling world soc­cer could of­ten be found sprawled on over­stuffed couches in the Baur au Lac’s lounge, in suits, thawbs and robes, gos­sip­ing about the sport’s re­con­dite pol­i­tics over pricey cock­tails and elab­o­rate tea ser­vices on sil­ver trays.

Just weeks be­fore the De­cem­ber 2010 World Cup vote, two ExCo mem­bers, Nige­rian Amos Adamu and Tahi­tian Rey­nald Te­marii, had been sus­pended by Fifa’s ethics com­mit­tee fol­low­ing an un­der­cover st­ing oper­a­tion by the Sunday Times, which caught them on tape of­fer­ing to sell their votes in ex­change for six- and seven-fig­ure bribes. Blatter called it “a sad day for foot­ball”.

The com­mit­tee’s re­main­ing 22 con­stituents were a color­ful if mot­ley group that in­cluded a num­ber of for­mer pro­fes­sional soc­cer play­ers, a med­i­cal doc­tor, a hard­ware store owner, ex­ec­u­tives of air­lines and oil com­pa­nies, a cham­pion mid­dledis­tance run­ner, sev­eral pro­fes­sional politi­cians, a hand­ful of lawyers and at least two bil­lion­aires.

On the eve of the vote, the nine na­tions mak­ing World Cup bids had staked out the Baur au Lac to make one last lob­by­ing push, bring­ing in as much fire­power as they could muster to sway the ExCo mem­bers their way.

Aus­tralia, vy­ing for 2022, had dis­patched su­per­model Elle Macpher­son to Zurich, along with the bil­lion­aire chair­man of its soc­cer fed­er­a­tion, shop­ping mall de­vel­oper Frank Lowy. The US del­e­ga­tion in­cluded na­tional team star Landon Donovan, ac­tor Mor­gan Free­man, sit­ting at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric Holder and for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

Eng­land, the odds-on favourite for 2018, had been hu­mil­i­ated sev­eral days ear­lier by the air­ing of a BBC doc­u­men­tary ac­cus­ing three Fifa ExCo mem­bers of tak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes from the sports mar­ket­ing firm In­ter­na­tional Sport and Leisure. The re­port also claimed that Jack Warner had at­tempted to scalp tick­ets worth more than $80,000 at the 2010 World Cup.

Ter­ri­fied of the thin-skinned Fifa of­fi­cials’ wrath, Eng­land’s bid team had tried to get the BBC to de­lay broad­cast of the re­port, which had been pro­duced by in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist An­drew Jen­nings. When that was un­suc­cess­ful, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the English bid re­sorted to in­sults, call­ing the re­port “un­pa­tri­otic” and “an em­bar­rass­ment”.

De­spite grow­ing signs that the odds were stacked against it, Eng­land had rented two suites at the Baur au Lac and flown in its “Three Lions”– prime min­is­ter David Cameron, Prince Wil­liam and David Beck­ham – to make a fi­nal ap­peal. Then, in a bit of en­cour­ag­ing news for the English del­e­ga­tion, word came that Vladimir Putin would not be com­ing to Zurich for the vote. The Rus­sian leader noted he was stay­ing away be­cause, he told the press, ExCo mem­bers should “make their de­ci­sion in peace and with­out any out­side pres­sure”.

For their part, mem­bers of Eng­land’s bid had lurked in the Baur au Lac un­til well af­ter mid­night, buy­ing ExCo mem­bers glasses of aged sin­gle-malt whisky and des­per­ately at­tempt­ing to cut last-minute deals to push their ef­fort across the vic­tory line. Be­fore turn­ing in, Jack Warner had ef­fu­sively em­braced Prince Wil­liam – a sure sign, it seemed, that he’d send his vote Eng­land’s way.

Shortly be­fore go­ing to bed in his im­mac­u­late res­i­dence on a se­cluded street in an up­mar­ket Zurich neigh­bour­hood, Blatter re­ceived a phone call from Barack Obama.

He had met the pres­i­dent in the Oval Of­fice dur­ing a four-day visit to Wash­ing­ton DC the pre­vi­ous year, and couldn’t help but feel a surge of ex­cite­ment when he heard his voice on the line. The call was short and for­mal, last­ing only a few min­utes.

Blatter had pub­licly ex­pressed sup­port for the US bid on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, point­ing to the vast com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties that such an event would pro­vide. Speak­ing in heav­ily ac­cented but pre­cise English, he re­it­er­ated that po­si­tion on the phone, de­lib­er­ately not­ing that he had only one vote and could not tell other ExCo mem­bers what to do.

“How are our chances?” Obama asked.

Blatter paused and softly sighed. “Mr Pres­i­dent, it will be dif­fi­cult.”

“I un­der­stand. Well, good luck,” Obama replied be­fore hang­ing up. They never spoke again.

“I am a happy pres­i­dent,” said Blatter, look­ing not par­tic­u­larly happy as he an­nounced that Rus­sia and Qatar had won, and would be host­ing the World Cup tour­na­ments in 2018 and 2022 re­spec­tively.

He stood at the podium be­fore a huge crowd and gri­maced. The hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists on hand to wit­ness the re­sult of that morn­ing’s vote rushed to file ac­counts of the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion, in­clud­ing Ro­man Abramovich, high-fiv­ing and whoop­ing as Blatter handed deputy prime min­is­ter Igor Shu­valov the World Cup tro­phy on­stage. Min­utes later, Qatar’s royal fam­ily fol­lowed suit, em­brac­ing one an­other, close to tears.

Chuck Blazer, Amer­ica’s high­es­trank­ing soc­cer of­fi­cial, wear­ing a dark suit and one of his trade­mark color­ful ties, was sit­ting in the au­di­to­rium’s front row, which had been re­served for the ExCo. Squeezed be­tween Mo­hamed bin Ham­mam of Qatar and Ni­colás Leoz of Paraguay, he did not join in the cheer­ing, and rose only to briefly em­brace the sud­denly ex­ul­tant Qatari be­side him, be­fore slump­ing back into the chair.

Di­rectly be­hind him, Bill Clin­ton whis­pered with Su­nil Gu­lati, pres­i­dent of the US Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion, then rose to shake hands with the politi­cians and roy­als in the room. Blazer re­mained mo­tion­less, star­ing stonily ahead. He had voted for Rus­sia rather than Eng­land to host the 2018 World Cup, but later ad­mit­ted he had been shocked when the US did not win the 2022 bid.

Just a few hours later, Vladimir Putin touched down in Zurich, ex­ul­tant. At a hastily as­sem­bled press con­fer­ence, he thanked Blatter and in­sisted that Rus­sia would be ready by 2018, and that he hoped Abramovich, who he said was “wal­low­ing in money,” would chip in for some of the sta­dium con­struc­tion.

“Would it be fair to say,” one ex­cited jour­nal­ist fawned, “that you are the clever­est prime min­is­ter in the world by stay­ing away and win­ning the con­test from so many thou­sands of miles away?”

“Thank you,” Putin said, re­ply­ing in Rus­sian and smil­ing. “I’m glad I in­sisted on giv­ing you the floor. Thank you, it’s very nice to hear this.”

Soc­cer fans in Aus­tralia, Korea, Ja­pan, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Bel­gium and Hol­land, all of whom had come up empty-handed, be­moaned the vote and ques­tioned its fair­ness.

Com­men­ta­tors in the press ques­tioned how it could be pos­si­ble that the two coun­tries least suited to host the World Cup had won, point­ing to the in­hos­pitable cli­matic con­di­tions of Qatar, where daytime tem­per­a­tures in June and July, when the World Cup was al­ways held, rou­tinely sur­passed 40C.

But nowhere was it taken harder than in Eng­land, where the vote dom­i­nated head­lines for weeks, and all con­ver­sa­tion on the topic was re­duced to ag­o­nised soul-search­ing, fin­ger-point­ing and an­guished gnash­ing of teeth. De­spite all its ef­forts, the coun­try had hu­mil­i­at­ingly gar­nered only two votes – from its own rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the ExCo and from Cameroon’s Issa Hay­a­tou – to host the 2018 tour­na­ment.

Bri­tish prime min­is­ter David Cameron, who had flown back to Lon­don on press­ing busi­ness ear­lier that day, first heard the news from an ad­vi­sor shar­ing the back seat of his bulletproof Jaguar on the way to Down­ing Street from Heathrow air­port. The two men slumped in their seats.

“We did our best,” Cameron fi­nally said, be­fore laps­ing into stunned si­lence.

One mem­ber of Eng­land’s bid team cor­nered Jack Warner and asked him why he had promised his vote and then voted other­wise. The Trinida­dian hissed his re­ply: “Who is go­ing to stop us?”

An­other mem­ber of that team, rid­ing in a shut­tle back to cen­tral Zurich from the au­di­to­rium where the re­sults had been an­nounced, no­ticed Fifa’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, the tall and hand­some French lawyer Jérôme Val­cke, bury­ing his face in his hands, and mut­ter­ing to him­self.

“This,” Val­cke kept say­ing, “is the end of Fifa.”

This is an edited ex­tract from Red Card: FIFA and the Fall of the Most Pow­er­ful Men in Sports by Ken Bensinger, pub­lished by Pro­file. Buy it at­guardian­book­shop.com

• Fol­low the Long Read on Twit­ter at @gdn­lon­gread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Pho­to­graph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/ Getty Im­ages

Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin ahead of the pre­lim­i­nary draw for the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers in Saint Peters­burg in July 2015.

Pho­to­graph: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Jack Warner in April 2011.

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