ZURICH --- Picture soccer fans partying where tanks and missiles paraded on Red Square in the Cold War's darkest days. Imagine high-tech air-conditioned stadiums chilled so players and spectators don't keel over in the sweltering desert heat of the Middle East.
For all the allegations of corruption and rigged voting that have been leveled lately against FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, the much-maligned group certainly has a taste for adventure.
In taking the World Cup to the uncharted lands of Russia in 2018 and tiny but oil-wealthy Qatar in 2022, FIFA -- like the International Olympic Committee -- is leading the charge for the argument that sports can reshape history and influence the destinies and the way people and nations are seen by the rest of the world.
FIFA could have played it safe by going to the ready-built stadiums of the United States or to the sport's motherland of England. Both promised minimal worry and lots of cash. But the desire of FIFA's all-powerful, 74-year-old President, Sepp Blatter, to carry soccer and its considerable influence to promising and largely untapped markets won the day.
"We go to new lands," said Blatter, who next June will seek another presidential term.
In doing so, FIFA is marching in lockstep with the Olympics, which went to China for the first time in 2008, celebrating the U-turn over one generation from Maoism to frontier capitalism in the world's most populous country. The IOC is now preparing for the first Olympics in South America, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, rewarding Brazil's emergence as a major power.
With plans for matches in existing stadiums, the United States could have played host to the World Cup now. It did in 1994. Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman was among those who worked FIFA's corridors of power for the U.S. bid, hanging out into the night before the vote in the carpeted state room of the hotel where executive members stayed.
Former President Clinton shared a personal memory with FIFA voters of watching his daughter, Chelsea, play soccer as a kid. But U.S. star power and promises of record profits and ticket sales couldn't match the novelty of Qatar and the prospect for FIFA of its first World Cup in the Middle East.
In Washington, President Obama says the FIFA made the "wrong decision" in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar over the United States.