Could Qatar lose World Cup? Colombia did
Colombia offers proof that Fifa is prepared to rip up and start again when it comes to staging a World Cup
Published 10/06/2014 | 18:19
Colombia offers proof that Fifa is prepared to rip up and start again when it comes to staging a World Cup.
It has become one of the World Cup's most iconic moments, an image which requires no description, yet but for an unprecedented decision to relinquish the right to stage football's greatest tournament, Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal against England would have happened in Colombia rather than Mexico in June 1986.
Maradona's performance in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, when he guided Argentina to victory with a combination of great skill and skulduggery, defines the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
But until October 1982, the 1986 World Cup was due to be staged in Colombia, with preparations for the tournament having been ongoing since 1974.
Politics, financial turmoil and the emergence of powerful and ruthless drug cartels in the South American country ultimately forced Colombia to abandon the competition just three-and-a-half years before it was due to begin.
But the shadow of the 'World Cup that never was' now hangs over Qatar as the world waits to discover whether Fifa will strip the gas-rich Gulf state of the right to host the 2022 tournament.
Colombia offers proof that Fifa is prepared to rip it up and start again when it comes to staging a World Cup.
Yet the decision to hand Mexico the tournament as late replacements proved as contentious and divisive as the current stand-off which threatens to leave 2022 up for grabs again.
Colombia's initial success in securing the right to host the 1986 World Cup was due to the country's president, Misael Pastrana Borrero, aggressively lobbying Fifa for the right to claim a tournament which had already been staged in Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.
Borrero regarded Colombia, South America's second-most populous nation, as being next in line to host the tournament and it was also central to his political ambitions - an opportunity to justify wide scale spending on grand projects including sporting arenas.
Sir Stanley Rous, Fifa's English president, sanctioned the awarding of the tournament to Colombia, but the subsequent collapse of the country's economy and emergence of the M-19 guerrilla movement in the late-1970s prompted widespread concerns over Colombia's ability to host the World Cup.
But after bowing to political pressure, Colombian president Belisario Betancur pulled the plug on the World Cup in a statement in October 1982.
"I announce to my compatriots that the 1986 World Football championship will not be held in Colombia," Betancur said. "We have a lot of things to do here and there is not enough time to attend to the extravagances of Fifa and its members."
Some stadia, including Barranquila's Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez - now the home of Colombia's national team - were already on the way to being built for the tournament, but the country was on the brink of a bloody drug war and Betancur's withdrawal spared Fifa a potentially disastrous competition in 1986.
Handing the tournament to Mexico was hardly straightforward, however, with Fifa politicking prompting the former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to claim that Fifa politics were 'dirtier than world politics'.
The United States, Canada, Brazil and Mexico all offered themselves as late replacements for Colombia, but the race was ultimately between the Americans and Mexicans, who had hosted the tournament as recently as 1970.
The Americans, backed by Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, appeared to have the most influential support, but Fifa president Joao Havelange, apparently angered by the North American Soccer League's refusal to abandon gimmicks such as penalty shoot-outs for drawn games and a 35-yard offside line, pushed for Mexico.
Fifa and Havelange were also made aware of a potential South American boycott of the tournament should it be handed to the United States - a nation regarded as hostile to many in Latin America.
But ultimately, it came down to money and the opportunity for Fifa to make substantial financial gains by turning to Mexico.
Guillermo Caneda, the head of Mexican media giant Televisa, held the powerful position of Fifa vice-president and he was able to persuade Havelange and his fellow powerbrokers that his commercial blueprint - including the inflated sale of television rights to European broadcasters - would transform Fifa's finances.
Mexico's staging of the tournament just 16 years prior to 1986 was conveniently overlooked in favour of handing the World Cup back to the Mexicans.
The United States went on to rebuild their relationship with Fifa, hosting the tournament in 1994, while Colombia are now considering a bid for the 2026 competition, despite the likelihood of Argentina and Uruguay co-hosting a centenary World Cup four years later.
Whether Qatar will go the same way as Colombia remains to be seen, but the 1986 tournament suggests that the politics have only just begun.