Let’s be honest, none of us have any idea what’s going to happen in the early hours of Friday morning our time in Zurich. FIFA politics and the agendas which accompany the delegates’ votes makes it near impossible to come up with a certain prediction for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting decisions.
But these are some of the key questions that we need to ask as D-day approaches, to try and make sense of FIFA’s options:
Can Australia win it?
We have a good shot. Ignoring the political agendas of the voting committee, the fact that Australia has never hosted a World Cup – the only country not to do so in the 2022 race apart from Qatar – holds us in good stead. And, as opposed to Qatar, we will be considered a safer, more reliable bet.
FIFA’s recent record of World Cup hosting suggests expanding into foreign markets for the good of the game is important – see South Africa 2006, Japan-South Korea 2002, and USA 1994.
The FIFA technical report was kind to Australia; we have the reputation of being able to host major events, with the 2000 Sydney Olympics fresh in the memory bank; we offer an exotic location in a hospitable country; share the same time-zone as the critical Asian market; and FIFA will be keen on giving the struggling domestic game a shot in the arm.
We are genuine contenders, especially if Japan and South Korea are knocked out early and the doubts around Qatar prove fatal. The key will be…
Will Australia survive the first cut?
FIFA’s voting process is simple: The 22-man (23 if Oceania gets its vote back) committee votes on their preferred bid, with the lowest scoring country eliminated at each round until there are just two left.
With the Asian vote set to be split by the four Asian bids, could Australia be the unlucky one left with the fewest votes and eliminated at the first round? It’s possible.
We are unlikely to get many (if any) votes from the four Asian representatives. The South Korean, Qatari (AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam) and Japanese delegates will naturally vote for their own countries.
Remember, Australia is the only 2022 bidder without a representative on the committee. Australia, in theory, is already down one vote on their rivals – and that one vote could be critical in such a tight race.
With question marks around Oceania’s vote, following the corruption scandal, Australia lost a likely ally and another vote.
We need the goodwill of the likes of Sepp Blatter, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini and co to get the necessary votes to progress.
Get past the first round and anything can happen, particularly if the Asian challengers fall by the wayside and Australia regains the Asian votes. But getting past that first round could be a big task in itself.
Is Qatar a genuine contender?
Favourites to land the 2022 World Cup according to some bookmakers, Qatar’s political influence seems to be overriding the obvious weaknesses of its bid – close proximity of stadiums to one another, heat, alcohol etc.
Qatar’s bid was criticised by FIFA’s technical committee for those reasons, but they appear to have some serious political weight behind them; fuelled by the riches from its oil reserves, which it has used to aggressively promote its bid and win favour with voting delegates with a series of promotional activities and joint ventures with, unsurprisingly, countries with voting representatives.
The allegations of collusion with Spain over voting for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments only showed how shrewd Qatar has been with its bid. And don’t forget they have Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President and Qatar’s own Mohamed Bin Hammam in their corner.
The FIFA voting delegates will be rightly criticised for ignoring the findings of their own report if they award Qatar the tournament. Their bid is arguably the weakest of the 2022 lot in terms of suitability, with same labeling it a fantasy to think they are capable of hosting the tournament (speaking of fantasy, check out their proposed stadia), but don’t be surprised if they are in the reckoning come the final vote.
Do South Korea and Japan stand a chance?
Co-hosts in 2002, South Korea and Japan are vying for sole staging rights just two decades later. But both will be hurt by that fact in this vote. With the vote being held only eight years after that World Cup, it’ll be hard for FIFA delegates to justify a vote for Japan and South Korea, no matter how impressive their bid.
Also, South Korea may be hurt by the increased tensions between them and their northern neighbours, North Korea, with the latest developments coming at arguably the worst time – on the brink of the vote.
They are rightly ranked as outsiders, but, as we’ve seen, the real danger for Australia is Japan and South Korea stealing votes in the early rounds.
Is the USA too tempting for FIFA?
The USA bid has made all the right noises: Political heavyweights such as Bill Clinton backing the bid; a string of world-class stadiums more than satisfying FIFA’s requirements (in terms of infrastructure, the USA can’t be beaten); and Major League Soccer (MLS) seemingly caving to Blatter’s demands to align its season schedule with the international calendar.
USA 1994 remains the most successful World Cup in history, and Americans continue to show their interest in the world game with huge ratings from the 2010 World Cup, not to mention the fact that Americans were second only to South Africans in terms of ticket sales.
But the domestic game could still use a boost that another World Cup would provide, particularly as the MLS expands and builds a second tier.
The USA matters to FIFA. It’s, arguably, the world game’s final frontier and the chance to go back and solidify the success of 1994 World Cup will be so tempting for the governing body.
Only the fact that they last hosted in 1994 will hurt them, but even then they would have had longer to wait than rivals Japan and South Korea. And compared to Qatar and Australia, America is strategically more important for the game’s development and economic growth, with a kinder time zone for Europe’s highly valued television audience (much kinder than Australia).
They should be considered favourites for 2022.
Does China 2026 come into the calculations?
No confederation can host consecutive World Cups, according to FIFA regulations. That ruling, along with FIFA’s desire to not keep the tournament away from Europe for too long, will haunt the four Asian bids.
China 2026 is looming in the background, and if the USA represents a hugely important market for FIFA, just imagine what they think of China – a global economic powerhouse who is a sleeping giant in football terms.
Will this come into FIFA’s consideration? China’s bid is still at a relatively early stage, but FIFA will be playing close attention to it and depending on what’s being discussed in FIFA headquarters, it could be playing on the delegates’ minds.
FIFA must surely be thinking that USA 2022 and China 2026 – consecutive World Cups in the world’s two economic and political superpowers – sounds pretty good.
How will Australia react to victory/defeat?
Make no mistake; the World Cup will be an economic and cultural boom for Australia.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the international consultancy firm, predicts a $5.3bn boost to Australian GDP, along with the creation of 74,000 jobs.
If we get it, there will be an outpouring of emotion and relief – certainly within the football community, with the prospect of an Australian World Cup 12 years down the track sure to give the domestic game a huge shot in the arm, accompanied by a huge investment in the sport from various quarters.
If Qatar wins, we will ask why a country with no football history and adjudged by FIFA’s own technical committee to be far from suitable for a World Cup beat us out.
If Japan, South Korea or the USA win, we will ask why they deserve a second World Cup when we haven’t had the pleasure of one. Economic considerations will be adjudged to be more important than taking the game to a new frontier, if we lose.
Also, we must ask the pertinent question of whether Australia really cares about the decision. For us football fans, it’s a huge moment that ranks alongside THAT penalty shootout of November 2005.
But the Cup bid has been conspicuous by its failure to grasp mainstream Australian attention. Many will not even know Australia is bidding for a World Cup, considering how little advertising and marketing there has been within Australia.
Will there be the same sort of elation that accompanied Sydney’s win back in 1993? It’s hard to tell right now.
Hopefully I’m wrong and wider Australia cares.
We shall see in the early hours of Friday morning. Hopefully it’s elation and not disappointment.