The 2018 World Cup will be hosted by Russia. Like officially. For sure. There’s no going back.
FIFA awarded Russia hosting rights way back on December 2, 2010, but both have been clouded in controversy ever since. Some had hoped that media reports, further investigations or even the United States Justice Department indictments would force FIFA to strip Russia of the 2018 World Cup. It was always an extreme long shot, getting even longer now that there’s just three years until the tournament, but now those hopes have been extinguished.
The World Cup preliminary draw killed them completely. On top of all the other reasons Russia was always going to host the tournament – FIFA’s stubbornness, an unwillingness to admit wrongdoing, trying to tell Vladimir Putin that he doesn’t get to host the World Cup anymore and waiting for his wrath – now there’s an actual competitive reason. Russia wasn’t entered in the preliminary draw because, as host, it automatically gets a spot in the World Cup. Post-draw, a change would cause chaos.
If FIFA wanted to change hosts now, its options are limited and rather ugly:
- Not guarantee the new host country a World Cup slot, creating a potentially disastrous scenario in which the hosts had no rooting interest in the tournament.
- Automatically give the new host a spot in the World Cup, but keep Russia. This decreases the available spots in the tournament and completely screws over the rest of the teams in the same group as the new host.
- Give the new host a spot in the World Cup and put Russia in the new host’s spot in qualifying. This could work if the new host came from UEFA, but it would still make for unbalanced groups and is only possible if it is done before qualifying starts next year. If the new host does not come from UEFA, it’s not the slightest bit possible.
- Kick Russia out of the World Cup altogether, which would probably be even more shady than awarding Russia, Qatar or any other country on Earth the right to host the World Cup in the first place.
So basically, if FIFA wanted to change hosts now, they would have a nearly impossible job on the competition front. It would require throwing a gigantic wrench in all of qualifying, which is kind of a gigantic deal.
Toss that onto the pile that includes all the non-competitive reasons and it’s 100% clear now – even though it pretty much was before – that Russia will host the 2018 World Cup. There’s no going back now.