England, U.S. Shut Out of World Cup Race

The World Cup will not play out in the United States or England for at least another 16 years, as neither nation had the juice to land hosting honors for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Instead, Mother Russia and Qatar have sauntered off with the prize.

Despite a late push by England’s Prince William, prime minister David Cameron and famed footballer David Beckham, FIFA handed the rights to the 2018 World Cup to Russia. The sport’s global governing body voted today in a secret ballot after entertaining final presentations by England and Russia. Belgium/The Netherlands and Spain/Portugal submitted joint bids.

England’s chances were certainly not helped by an incident that occurred earlier this year, in which Football Association chairman David Triesman accused Spain and Russia of conspiring to bribe referees during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Triesman would resign his position after his allegations were proven to be unfounded.

Nor did England put on its best face in recent days. On the eve of the decision, hundreds of Birmingham fans stormed the pitch to brawl with police after the home side beat Ashton Villa 2-1. For those who recall the Hillsborough and Heysel Stadium disasters and the rampant football hooliganism of the 1980s, the Birmingham riot was an ugly reminder of darker times.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter also announced that oil-rich Qatar has won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, trumping the U.S., Australia, South Korea and Japan. The U.S. had been pegged as a prohibitive favorite heading into today’s vote.

The U.S. brought out the big guns for its final pitch to FIFA, as former President Bill Clinton and U.S. national team star Landon Donovan spoke to voters on Wednesday. Clinton, the honorary bid chairman, noted that Americans have really taken a shine to the sport, adding that U.S. citizens accounted for the second-largest block of tickets bought during the 2010 World Cup, trailing only fans from the host nation.

Projected ticket sales for a 2022 U.S. World Cup may have added up to 5 million, or north of $1 billion.

A sometimes-brilliant U.S. team helped set ratings records this summer. The 2010 tournament ranks as the most-watched World Cup ever on English-language TV in the United States, as ESPN/ABC/ESPN2 averaged 3.26 million total viewers over the course of 64 games, up 41 percent from the 2006 event (2.32 million). The stateside audience for the final drew 24.4 million viewers to ABC and Univision, topping the previous record (19.4 million) set by Team USA-Ghana two weeks earlier.

ESPN has the rights to televise the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and president George Bodenheimer said earlier this week that the network will compete “vigorously” for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.