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Ten years ago the FFA and K-Rudd shared a dream

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19th September, 2018
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Ten years ago Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, having swept to power in the ‘Kevin Oh-Seven’ campaign.

We’ve seen a fair turnover since then that somewhat rivals Italy. However back in 2008 there was a particular sporting ‘vision’ for the future that was to prove a hard sell. The Football Federation Australia had engaged the Australian Government to support a bid to host the 2018 Association Football World Cup.

The preliminary bid unveiling occurred in late February in 2008. PM Rudd would “..unveil an audacious campaign” – at that point to host the 2018 Cup where England were deemed the favourites.

At the time it was reported that the UK were spending between $25 million and $32 million on its bid.

Given that Australia is arguably the world’s most competitive domestic football market, with four professional codes along with an much broader sporting landscape – including cricket, tennis, motor racing, swimming, horse racing – it would be naïve to imagine that any one sport exists in a ‘vacuum’.

And so – even at this point in time there was a ‘reaction’. Caroline Wilson in the The Age newspaper reported ‘World Cup Bid will hasten AFL’s move on Sydney’.

Within days Jacquelin Magnay in the Sydney Morning Herald reported “FFA to meet rival codes to build support for Cup bid”.

Everyone wanted to know how it would all work. It was reported that “..some FFA insiders don’t believe they require a nod of approval from rival codes, the Rudd Government wants to be able to sell its involvement throughout the electorate and avoid other sporting codes undermining the big.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd center, and FFA Chairman Frank Lowy

The ill-fated Come Play campaign (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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As AFL spokesman Patrick Keane referenced, the AFL had worked previously to accommodate major events “..like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games…..but we aren’t quite sure what they want or expect of us.”

What was clear was that due to the fragmented nature of the Australian electorate when it comes to the football codes – for the Federal Government to hitch its wagon to the FFA horse at the expense of the other three and other sports more broadly might be, well, electoral suicide.

So – the PR game would begin.

Playing the game first was the late Michael Cockerill in the SMH.

“Football finds a powerful friend, and rivals are quaking in their boots” was published March 19. His lead “Football got dudded at the 2000 Olympics”.

His main assertion that only the $27-million redevelopment of Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium was to show for the presence of association football at the 2000 Olympics: “..the only time tax dollars have been spent on building a football-specific stadium anywhere in Australia”.

Of course – one can’t help but feel he’d missed the point.

Australia is all about multi-purpose and the Olympics had highlighted this.

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Large oval arenas hosting athletics, opening/closing ceremonies, and the soccer matches.

Cockerill at least felt that the even if Australia missed out in the short term that “..any proposals that don’t meet FIFA requirements, and don’t take football into account, won’t be benefitting from the public purse”. Already this fledgling bid was seen as the dawning of a bright new future.

Come May of 2008 – Federal Government budget time – and Cockerill crowed “The numbers game is looking good for football, much to the frustration of rival sports”, as Rudd came good on his $32 million four-year pledge to the FFA.

Conversely, the ARU and NRL saw previous Howard administration promises ‘broken’ by the new political regime. Cockerill put it this way “..but right now football is enjoying leading the race. For once.”

2008 though was also the year of the GFC – the Global Financial Crisis.

The news cycles in the sporting sense were refocussed on the winter codes – the NRL and AFL. But come the other side of the footy finals, after Bathurst and before the pointy end of the Spring Racing Carnival we saw an article from WA Today “No new stadium? We understand, says AFL”.

The project at risk was the proposed $1.1-billion new sports stadium in Perth.

The GFC had perhaps scuppered thoughts of a too great a commitment to new spending on new stadia.

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The bid as reported by ABC News in November would be dependent upon “Rival codes likely to kick in venues for World Cup”.

At this time the AFL’s demand for stadia in season in Melbourne was “looming as the biggest problem”.

Although a reported meeting that week between the AFL and FFA was ‘understood’ to have agreed on some possible compromises, it was asserted at this time that the AFL would most likely allow World Cup matches at the MCG but retain Docklands for its home and away matches.

Add to that, the new (at that time yet to be completed) 32,000 seat rectangular stadium would be “beefed up in capacity to the 40,000 level it needs to fulfil World Cup regulations.”

That seemed pretty neat.

Adelaide and Perth were the issues at this time – new stadia – as WA Today explored further on December 10.

A senior marketing academic from RMIT University suggested FIFA’s requirements of between nine and 12 stadia and a preference against cities having two stadiums meant that Adelaide and Perth became very import.

Dr Constantino Stavros asserted “There is no way around that.”

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Cockerill revisited the topic on December 11 with “Can Australia really host the 2018 World Cup?”.

Quoting then FFA CEO Ben Buckley, it was pointed out that the FFA had already had discussions with the AFL, NRL and ARU and outlined a ‘broad strategy of our plan’ and would keep the other codes fully consulted along the way.

“I can only say that the feedback we’ve got so far has been nothing but positive.”

From that position – what could possibly go wrong?

Oh – the last word for 2008 to Frank Lowy was to reflect that the “FFA has got no money”. The bid budget was $45 million as provided by the Federal Government.

Frank Lowy gives a speech

Sir Frank Lowy (AAP Image/Danny Casey)

Ten years on, we all know what happened to the World Cup bid (or do we?)

Despite this Adelaide and Perth have the bright shiny stadiums that were seen as perhaps the biggest stumbling blocks. The other codes would be fine. As for Kevin Rudd; he got knifed by his own party. The Liberals were clear they would never resort to such internal ructions.

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He came back, got kicked out by the electorate and never did get the UN top job.

After Russia (and not England) hosted the 2018 FIFA WC fans of the ‘World Game’ can look forward to the highly anticipated Qatar offering in 2022 that, well, didn’t quite tick the FIFA boxes nor meet the expectation of Dr Stavros.

Backed by the QSI (Qatar Sport Investments), the Qatar bid has held firm despite taking some scalps along the way – due to the FIFA ‘process’. A bid budget of $45 million seemed just to much like taking a knife to a gun fight – once the dust had settled.

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