How to cancel a World Cup

Thomson Reuters
Philipp Schmidli

LONDON — It has never been done before and no defined procedure for doing it exists but, in theory, withdrawing the right to host a World Cup from a host nation should be an easy thing to do.

Football has been in turmoil since a series of arrests last week of officials from the world governing body FIFA on US Department of Justice allegations of bribery.

Swiss prosecutors have also announced their own criminal investigation into the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

More from GlobalPost: Here's what FIFA's corporate partners are saying about the scandal

The scandal has prompted calls for FIFA to re-examine the awards — something that Qatar and Russia have firmly resisted.

The only other occasion on which a men’s World Cup was moved was when Colombia opted out of hosting the 1986 tournament but in that case, it withdrew citing economic problems.

"We’re in uncharted waters," said one former senior FIFA official.

But the former official said it was possible for a country to lose the right to host the tournament.

According to Article 85 of FIFA's statutes, which deals with "unforeseen circumstances and force majeure," the organization's Executive Committee has the "final decision on any matters not provided for in these Statutes."

Any wrongdoing around the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — which Russia and Qatar deny — could be seen as "unforeseen circumstances" warranting a rethink, the former official said.

The 25-member Executive Committee usually makes decisions on the basis of a simple majority.

There is some precedent. In May 2003, the Executive Committee opted to move the Women's World Cup from China, due to an outbreak of the SARS virus.

While this decision came within weeks of China saying it was ready and willing to host the games, the context of health risks and the fact FIFA agreed to allow China host the 2007 games in return for the move, mean this experience is not seen as comparable to the current situation.

FIFA rules also allow members — the 209 national soccer associations which are its members — to introduce motions for the body to vote on.

Majority Voting

This right could be used by a member to propose FIFA taking back one or both World Cups.

This has never happened before so it is unclear how a vote would be structured. On most issues, FIFA works on the basis of a majority of voting members backing a motion.

However, the bar for a vote to withdraw a tournament could be higher if votes on the expulsion or suspension of members were taken as a guide.

The decision on whether to hold a vote on suspending or expelling a member from FIFA requires a three-quarters majority of the valid votes cast, the statutes say.

Only two opportunities will arise in the next year to introduce such motions — at the "extraordinary elective Congress" due to take place between December this year and March next year or at the ordinary annual FIFA Congress which will take place in May 2016.

Sports executives and officials said it would be politically difficult to push through a vote on removing the tournament either at the executive committee or Congress, especially if no definitive proof of wrongdoing was produced.

In the case of Qatar, removing the tournament would likely be seen as a political snub to the Arab world, while Russia, already at odds with the West over Ukraine, would see it as a diplomatically hostile move.

While billions of dollars of contracts have already been agreed in relation to the tournaments, this may not be a major bar to relocating the games.

An official at one television group with rights to both tournaments said they expected to have the rights irrespective of where the matches were held. The shift in the 2003 women’s World Cup did not nullify all the TV contracts that had been signed.

Andrew Woodward, a consultant who previously led sports sponsorship for Visa said groups which had signed sponsorship deals would also likely be untroubled by a move.

"They don't care where the tournaments are held. Sponsors do 95 percent of the exploitation of their sponsorship in the year leading up to a World Cup," he said.

Some companies have contracts which are more location specific. British-based Byrom Plc has contracts to provide accommodation services to FIFA at the 2018 World Cup via its Swiss-based subsidiary Match. It said that if the tournament were canceled in Russia, it would not seek compensation.

FIFA has certain agreements directly with the host nations but Woodward said it was possible such contracts could be voided if wrongdoing in the bidding process was established.

(By Tom Bergin and Mike Collett; Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Giles Elgood)