World Soccer
Friday May 15th, 2009

FIFA will decide who hosts the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 on the same day in December 2010. This is for two reasons: firstly, to give the ultimate hosts a more realistic time frame in which to undertake all the necessary preparations and, secondly, to guarantee television and sponsor revenue a long way in advance.

The original rotation system has been scrapped and replaced by the more simple structure that a continental confederation can host a World Cup only once in every three rounds. Therefore, no South American nation can enter the bidding for '18 and '22 tournaments because Brazil is host in 2014.

Very few people within the game believe that the finals will not return to Europe in 2018 for the first time since Germany '06. That leaves the rest of the world to scrap over '22.

Significant shifts may well occur before the May 2011 deadline for final documentation, depending on attitudes within FIFA to co-hosting and Olympic awards -- Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo go head-to-head in October for the '16 Games.


Neither Belgium nor Holland is big enough to host the World Cup on its own, and the notion that sporting fair play should compel FIFA to open up the hosting market to smaller nations is the subtext of their joint bid. Belgium and Holland have co-hosting history, from Euro 2000, but claims of the format's "success" are simplistic. At least they have a unified organizing proposal, unlike the wasteful twin organization of Japan and South Korea in '02. Stadiums represent a problem and UEFA President Michel Platini has pointed to the need for a major construction program (estimated at $1.8 billion) if Belgium and Holland are to catch their European rivals.


England hosted the World Cup once previously, in 1966, and should be able to present a powerful case. Lord David Triesman, independent chairman of the Football Association, has also taken on bid leadership. Chief executive is Andy Anson, the one-time Manchester United commercial director and tennis boss, while the bid team includes Lord Sebastian Coe, who has been granted a leave of absence from his role as president of FIFA's ethics commission. Wembley will be the proposed heart of a bid which can feature more modern stadiums than almost any other contender. It also represents a "safe" organizing option for the World Cup after South Africa and Brazil.


Originally Spain opted for a single bid then, inexplicably, federation president Ángel María Villar decided to team up with neighboring Portugal. If that was an attempt to strengthen their voting hand, the strategy has backfired. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has made it clear that co-hosting is only a last resort. Spain, host previously in '82, has everything necessary to take the finals again, with ideal infrastructure and large stadiums -- including some of the most attractively iconic in world soccer. In addition to Madrid's Bernabéu, Barcelona's Camp Nou and Sevilla's Olímpico, there is also the new home being built by Atlético Madrid which could be the Olympic stadium in '16.


Russia wants to bring the World Cup to Eastern Europe for the first time. During the communist Soviet era, this would have been unthinkable. Now, however, the combination of Vladimir Putin's political leadership and the oligarch-led "new money" offers a far better prospect of improving notoriously slow administrative procedures, hotel accommodation and transport links. Perceptions of the new financial strength of Russia have been shaken by the effects of the global recession. Russia's bid may also suffer by association with the troubled fall-out of the Euro '12 co-hosting in neighboring Poland and Ukraine.


Frank Lowy, the shopping-mall billionaire who drives the game in Australia, is aiming at both '18 and '22, even though Blatter had suggested the later could be a better focus. No one doubts Australia's sporting tradition -- the 2000 Sydney Olympics was an outstanding advert for organizational potential, and the national team contributed by reaching the second round of the '06 World Cup. In terms of soccer politics, Australia is in the Asian confederation so, for all Lowy's power and wealth and influence, it could find the political aspect more complex than the practicalities. It will also need at least five further soccer-friendly stadiums.


Indonesia takes the prize for the most surprising World Cup bid. The geographical complexity is one factor, the need to renovate three stadiums and build 10 new ones another -- particularly as the federation estimates the cost at a surprisingly low $1 billion and appears unaware of any government financial support. It was also not a good advertisement that a game against New Zealand was canceled for security fears because of elections. The national team has never reached the World Cup and currently ranks No. 138 in the world, the only bidder outside the top 100. However, Indonesia does have a slogan: "For the game. For the world. For our planet safety."


Japan can boast experience and connections while resentment still lingers over the way South Korea muscled in on, what the Japanese believe, should have been "their own" World Cup in '02. Organization and infrastructure in '02 was outstanding, and the stadiums were all built in the last 20 years to J-League specifications with expansion for international competition in mind. Japan also gained political top marks for its annual hosting of the Club World Cup which has improved ties with FIFA. Yokohama could be the main stadium, but this may change if Tokyo, in October, wins host rights to the '16 Olympic Games. Indeed, if Tokyo fails, then the World Cup bid may be in doubt.

Qatar (2022 only)

Qatar's bid looks the most implausible despite being home to AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam. The economic downturn has raised doubts about some of the ultra-ambitious projects in even the Gulf. Qatar staged the Asian Games in '06 and hosts the '11 Asian Cup, but there is no comparison with the demands of the World Cup. The country has only one stadium with a capacity of more than 25,000, so bid documentation will rely heavily on architects' impressions. The capital, Doha, impressed an Olympic evaluation team with its bid for the '16 Games, but even that was not enough to reach the final shortlist and there is no reason why a World Cup bid will be more successful.

South Korea (2022 only)

Memories of the touchy '02 process came flooding back when the Koreans matched Japan in submitting a sole bid. The unhappy history between the two nations remains a powerful force. In '02, Korea had hoped hosting might open doors to the North, but that political imperative is no longer such an issue with FIFA. The Korean federation says it "still has sufficient infrastructure" to provide a foundation for '22, but the world and the World Cup has moved on. Korea's weakness in '02 was intercity transport because of an inadequate rail network. It also struggled to cope, outside Seoul, with accommodation. Recent memories could prove more hindrance than help.


Mexico is one of the twin giants of CONCACAF, boasts a popular and wealthy league championship, major broadcasting support and excellent connections within FIFA. The country also staged two memorable World Cups, in '70 and then again in '86, and would it be the first to be a triple host. However, an escalating crime rate, including a drugs war, could harm the image of the campaign if not brought under control. New stadiums are already under construction in Torreón (by Santos Laguna) and in Guadalajara, but the general venues standard is far from that demanded by FIFA. Federation President Justino Compeán was being overly optimistic in saying: "We are ready."

United States

The U.S. was an outsider in a bidding poll run by the BBC, but that may prove misleading. Soccer in the U.S. has come on leaps and bounds since its '94 hosting and the record of finals participation by the national team at all age levels in FIFA competitions is impressive. The U.S. has nothing to prove in terms of infrastructure, organizational capacity or local support -- the average and aggregate attendances in '94 remain World Cup records even though the tournament has expanded from 24 to 32 teams since then. Victory for, probably, '22, may depend more on the U.S. winning the CONCACAF duel with Mexico than on the vote within FIFA executive.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.

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