ABU DHABI // Before the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar the 2009 Club World Cup was staged in Abu Dhabi. Could the success of the latter have helped set the stage for the former?
"I think so," said Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, president of the Football Association. "I think we left a good impression with Fifa and maybe that helped Qatar with their World Cup bid."
The UAE's own big Fifa event begins tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium when the hometown side Al Wahda play Hekari United of Papua New Guinea, kick off 8pm.
It marks the second staging in Abu Dhabi of Fifa's only club tournament and pits seven sides from six continents in eight matches and runs until December 18.
Al Rumaithi said he was "very happy" when Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup. "This part of the world deserves, after 90 years of the World Cup, to have the World Cup," he said yesterday. "We have a passion for football like any other place in the world."
The Gulf has seemed to come up in nearly every serious Fifa discussion of late, and at a media event yesterday in Abu Dhabi, two members of the world governing body's executive committee talked about both Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
Jerome Valcke, the Fifa secretary general, and Chuck Blazer, the chairman of the organising committee, each defended the process that awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
"I was satisfied when I left the voting room that the vote had been held democratically and the members voted their own consciences, and this was the result," Blazer said.
"Whatever people are saying now, there are two winners, Russia and Qatar," Valcke said. "And as the Fifa president [Sepp Blatter] said, in sports you should learn to win and lose. Two won, seven lost, and that's it. The decision went, and the process went, well. There is no more to add. There will be two great World Cups in these countries."
Valcke said the process, secret balloting from 22 executive committee members that some have suggested invites deal-making and corruption, could be changed in the future. But it will never impact the decisions already made.
"This is a decision that will be made in 2018, so it's in eight years time," he said. "So it means the executive committee of Fifa … has eight years to decide or not to decide on how the World Cup is awarded in the future. If we say yes, yes it needs to be changed it would be saying something went wrong."
Blazer defended the secret ballot by saying that it allows voters to avoid pressure from other governments. "It's the one way you can protect them."
Each was more interested in talking about the Club World Cup. "In 2009, it went very well and I think that's why we are so happy to come back, and you see we have good teams playing again," Valcke said.
The 2009 event was praised for its logistics, but attendance was spotty aside from the two matches in which the eventual champions Barcelona played; each attracted more than 40,000 fans.
Blazer said ticketing methods were discussed during meetings earlier in the day, and he had been assured attendance would be up this year, in part because of more efficient ticket distribution.
"It's always good to have the experience of the second year," he said. "They've had time to work on these issues, and there's nothing like time and experience to make things better."
Wahda, the hosts, are the Pro League champions. The other six sides are champions of continental federations: Inter Milan of Europe, Internacional of South America, Pachuca of North America, TP Mazembe of Africa and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of Asia and Hekari of Oceania. The event returns to Tokyo for 2011 and 2012, but al Rumaithi said Abu Dhabi may bid for the 2013 tournament.
"We are awaiting government instruction," he said. "If the FA receives that, we will bid for 2013."
Meantime, he has high hopes for Wahda who, he said, "are representing the whole country".
"So I think they are ready. Hekari United doesn't seem to be, you know … OK, we respect that team but I think Wahda can manage to pass by that match and then go further in the tournament, with the support of the spectators and the hard work the players should put in the match for 90 minutes. I think we can congratulate each other tomorrow, inshallah."