The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.
Today, we present the year's Biggest Controversy: FIFA's decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
The FIFA Executive Committee’s contentious and cloudy decision on Dec. 2 drew more heated response on MLSsoccer.com and throughout the world than any other topic this year. The decision starkly betrayed tradition and expectation, giving the world’s premier sporting event to a nation smaller than the size of Connecticut and with no recognizable soccer history.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter insists that a first World Cup in the Middle East will continue the organization's commitment to "open this game to everybody and open it to all cultures."
But it’s tough to overlook the obstacles. Qatar's one existing international airport will need to triple in size. Nine stadiums need to be built, and the proposed host city of Lusail doesn’t even exist yet. And then there’s that whole concept of solar-powered, carbon-neutral air-conditioning system for the stadiums to combat the 115-degree heat during a typical Qatari summer afternoon. Not to mention the fact that visitors carrying an Israeli passport are not currently allowed in Qatar, homosexuality is illegal, single women under the age of 35 are typically required to have a male escort to enter the country and all women are forbidden to wear shorts and skirts.
As one tweeter wrote during an avalanche of instantaneous feedback following the decision: “If FIFA really wanted to change the world though soccer, they would have awarded Qatar the Women’s World Cup.”
But it wasn't just the Twittersphere that erupted. The traditional media had much to say as well. The New York Times' Nate Silver called FIFA's decision "astonishing" and "hard to understand." The Telegraph's Henry Winter termed it a "scandal in FIFA-ville," calling Qatar "a soulless, featureless, air-conditioned, cramped place with so little connection to football it required hired hands like Pep Guardiola." Germany's Bild led its commentary with this: "Qatarstrophe. This is how the word is spelled since [Dec. 2]."
Even President Obama chimed in, saying FIFA’s call was the “wrong decision.”
There were, of course, American implications at stake. The US bid to land the Cup in 2022 was stocked with expectations of unparalleled revenue for FIFA, booming television ratings, record-breaking attendances and sparkling infrastructure already in place. If FIFA were truly invested in making a global imprint, Americans argued, then how about truly tapping into the US market? After all, the 1994 World Cup went off without a hitch, delivered the best attendance figures in tournament history and laid the groundwork for the inception of MLS. Things will surely be even bigger and better a dozen years from now.
But instead FIFA opted to go elsewhere, leaving many scratching their heads about yet another controversial decision by the powers that be in Zürich.
Second Place: Columbus Crew fall to Santos Laguna in CCL (Aug. 24)
The Crew thought they had a chance at Major League Soccer’s first meaningful win in Mexico when Andy Iro staked them to a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. But the goal was waved off by referee Luis Rodríguez because, it seemed, the Crew’s Emilio Renteria had re-entered the field after an injury just prior to the goal without being waved on. Or was it that Rentería didn’t have a number on his jersey? No one knew for sure, and the conspiracy theorists went crazy. Santos eventually won on a goal in the 93rd minute.
Third Place: The Thierry Henry-Kevin Hartman incident (Sept. 16)
FC Dallas fans cried foul when Henry’s accidental post-goal celebration kick buckled Hartman, who up until that point had been a steadying force in a turnaround season for Dallas. Hartman landed on the injured list for FCD’s stretch run and perhaps missed his chance at the Goalkeeper of the Year award. The French star apologized, but the incident resonated with fans for days on MLSsoccer.com.
Honorable Mention: Maurice Edu’s goal disallowed against Slovenia, Western teams in the Eastern Conference Championship, Bob Bradley coaching decisions at World Cup, Juan Pablo Angel on the bench for New York, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment apologizes to Toronto FC fans.