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Book Review - The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot To Buy The World Cup

The Ugly Game tells the astonishing story of how Qatar was awarded the World Cup. @WilliamOwain reviews the book and what it says about the future of football.

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Perhaps the biggest shock that emerges from reading The Ugly Game is the sense of sympathy you feel for the main villain of the story: Mohamed bin Hammam. The whole book documents his role in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding campaign. Here is a man who could play the FIFA game so well that he managed to secure the World Cup for his tiny home country of Qatar; a country so unsuited as host, it still to this day seems like a bad joke that it could even be considered let alone selected.

Every chapter in the book gives an example of Bin Hamman abusing his enormous wealth to garner support for the Qatar World Cup bid and, later on, his campaign for the FIFA Presidency. He is everything that is wrong with FIFA and yet you feel sorry for him. That you do tells you about the state of FIFA.

Sepp Blatter was the man who came up with idea of a World Cup in Qatar. It was probably an off the cuff remark to the country's Emir and even then he thought that if they did take him seriously they would never win. That they did was, as shown in the book, heavily down to Bin Hamman. His success shocked Blatter and also started his downfall.

FIFA has long turned into a parody of itself

In every chapter of The Ugly Game you will read something that will shock. As is well known by now, FIFA has long turned into a parody of itself. I have to confess that halfway through reading the book, I went back to another one. The Ugly Game is a noble piece of work and it is clear the dedication and huge amount of effort and time that went into it.

However, until the end of last month, it all seemed for nothing. I found it hard to motivate myself to keep reading about how the most important decisions in world football were all taken on the basis of individual gain rather than, to paraphrase a FIFA motto, "for the [good of the] game".

I was already aware that FIFA's executive committee had ignored its own assessment of all the competing bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but I had been unaware that they also overlooked a separate terrorist assessment. The two worst bids on both counts: Qatar and Russia!

The description of Harold Mayne-Nicholls delivering his report on the bids just before the vote, and how he left the meeting "convinced that the Exco's decision would not be based on which country was best equipped to hold a World Cup," makes you think you were there in the boardroom.

Sometimes the level of detail in the book leaves you wondering how they managed to get the information. More than once you wonder if they've made it up. The authors, Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, were the Sunday Times reporters who exposed how the Qatar bid bribed their way to victory. The Sunday Times and the book publisher, Simon & Schuster, are not stupid though, they would only publish this material if it could be backed up in court.

All change at FIFA?

So where has the last month left FIFA and world football? Anyone who reads this book will be acutely aware that Blatter's resignation alone will change nothing. His was a popular reign and, whether we like it or not, it was also very good one for the majority of people who hold power in world football. When you consider that even France and Spain voted for him last month you realise what the callers for change are up against. The status quo is firmly established.

It also shows how little the western world understand the rest of the world. For us it is almost inconceivable that there can be people who do not share our outrage at what FIFA had become. However, in large parts of the world the behaviour that became the norm in FIFA is part of everyday life.

Nevertheless, there are causes for hope. The exposure of Bin Hamman, and the ultimate FIFA villain Jack Warner, was largely down to the honesty of football officials from Bahamas, Bermuda, and Turks and Caicos. FIFA also announced yesterday that they are suspending the bidding for the 2026 World Cup; hopefully to give themselves time to do the process properly and not to wait for attention to go elsewhere.

FIFA and football will need more courageous officials like the three Caribbean islanders who refused Bin Hamman's bribes and the brave whistleblowers who were the source of material for this book. It will also need countries, like England, to continue to hold FIFA to account. The reform game will take a while and there will be disappointments ahead, but the hope must be that The Ugly Game is the nadir for FIFA.