In another triumph for the entertainment business, they decided on Tuesday to ruin the World Cup. And no one cared.
One seriously wonders whether sport has reached a point where nothing can derail it. Despite our constant moaning about its many problems, is sport now too big to fail?
Given the way its officials carry themselves, that's certainly FIFA's take.
On Tuesday, world soccer's governing body lurched toward the end of a farcical four-year-long process, as a task force recommended the 2022 World Cup be moved to winter. Just this once.
There were five bids for that tournament. Four very good ones – the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea – and one terrible one – Qatar. FIFA's own investigative committee labelled the Qatar bid "high risk."
Of course, Qatar won in a walk.
There was a substantial problem. Summer temperatures were expected to hit up to 50 C on the scorching fields of play. That's hot enough to melt roads.
Leaning hard on the idea that the tiny, oil-rich country could fund Interstellar-level sci-fi vanity projects, it was suggested Qatar would "air condition" open-roofed stadiums. No one ever said exactly how. We were left to believe that, with unlimited resources, there were unlimited possibilities.
It's a romantic notion. Even if they'd managed it, most people would've succumbed to heat exhaustion and death in the parking lot, but it sounded cool.
I'm going to miss seeing them try it. Well, almost.
Once the formality of a full executive committee vote is over in a few weeks' time, they'll play the 2022 World Cup in November and December. The tournament will be shortened, and run right up on top of Christmas. It'll be a disaster for most of the world's domestic leagues. The competitive consequences will spin out for years afterward.
In a rational market, customers would be outraged. Over low, constant heat, that outrage would eventually reduce to apathy. A chunk of them would move their attention and money elsewhere.
That isn't happening here. Rather the opposite – the outrage is making people more interested in this event.
Qatar is a senseless boondoggle, built on shifty oil money and the bodies of itinerant workers. In terrible conditions on World Cup-related construction projects, migrant labourers are dying at a rate of one a day, human-rights organizations say. Yet the conversation this morning is largely, "How does a shift to winter affect Country X's chances?"
We're all happy to be led wherever they take us, however deep and dark, as long as it ends in the moist embrace of televised entertainment.
If the past 10 years in sport have a theme, it is this: The fan does not care what you do. He doesn't want your product any more. He needs it, compulsively.
Through its advertising, the NFL tries to sell the idea that it isn't religion or culture or shared experience that bind American families. It's football. The scary thing? It may be right.
That's what makes the NFL so resilient to scandal. It isn't a hobby for its viewers. It's a cornerstone of their very real lives. It's the same case for soccer over most of the rest of the world.
Once that's true, you can do just about anything. And by "just about," I mean "anything."
Kill the athletes. Kill the workers. Kill the idea that this is all on the up-and-up. Make the whole thing as unpalatable as possible. But wrap it in good-versus-bad storylines and high-end production, and we will keep coming back.
We'll complain. (We do love to be seen – chalky-handed and no need of a rope – climbing to the high moral ground.) But we won't really care. Not enough to turn off the game and pick up a book instead.
Reporters will still be there. People will still come. Billions will still watch.
Why? Because sports – especially the major events – create a simulation of community. Social media have exponentially expanded that misperception: "I'm watching the big game with hundreds of my friends."
No, you're watching the big game alone with a computer in your lap. But it doesn't feel that way.
For those who control the game, this is a profound conceptual barrier to pass through, and it's ongoing.
The reason sports executives and the money men who back them aren't constantly tinkering with their product is the fear that if they make too many side-to-side moves, the trailing customer loses his way.
Several sports – hockey and baseball leap immediately to mind – could use technical overhauls. You could make 10 suggestions off the top of your head that would make them far more compelling to watch.
Everyone hides behind heritage, and no one does anything for fear that sudden change costs you a quarter of your market share.
FIFA and the Qatar World Cup are proof you don't need to leave breadcrumbs for people to follow. If you're a major sport, you could dig a hole, get inside and pull the earth in on top of you. A few days later, you'd be discovered by fans.
That's neither good nor bad. It just is. Sport need not fear change, because it isn't the sport that matters any more.
The only purpose of the game is as a rallying point. It's where the masses converge. The finer details of the product on the field/diamond/ice are beside the point. When and where it happens doesn't matter. Who it hurts has no bearing on anything. All it need be is properly packaged.
In Rome, they gave people bread and circuses, because they needed both.
In the modern, developed world, we have bread, but it's the circus that keeps us together.