A push to bring the World Cup to Australia would have to rely on the good grace of rival codes which outstrip football for TV ratings and crowd numbers in the domestic market.
Backers of Australia’s bids for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup conceded Thursday that they’d need the Australian Football League, the National Rugby League and Super 14 rugby union teams to vacate their main venues in the middle of their seasons to have any chance of providing the facilities to host the world’s biggest single sports event.
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While football is the global game, it is currently ranked third of four football choices in Australia.
“We’ve met with all the sporting codes and they’re all in broad agreement about the importance of the FIFA World Cup for Australia and the legacy it would deliver in terms of sporting infrastructure,” Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley said. “There’s a precedent in relation to the Sydney Olympics and the Rugby World Cup.”
The AFL’s Australian Rules is a domestic game, similar to Irish Gaelic football, and is the most popular sport in five of Australia’s eight main states and territories.
Rugby league has its strongest presence in New South Wales and Queensland states, plus northern England. Rugby union is slipping in popularity in Australia, but is the more international of the rugby codes and has just had its condensed Sevens format included in the Olympics. Its Super 14 competition involves provincial teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
In 2000, the AFL and NRL ended their seasons early so as not to impede on Sydney’s buildup to hosting the Olympics, which were in September, and again for the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
Buckley said it would take some work to convince rival codes to split their seasons in half to accommodate a June/July World Cup, but says the lure of improved stadiums could yield cooperation.
FIFA regulations stipulate a lockout for rival sports during the World Cup and for a four-week buildup.
The Australian government has supported the FFA’s bids for the World Cup, and is expecting final projected costings from organizers next week. The FFA must lodge thorough World Cup plans next May with FIFA, which will vote on the 2018 and 2022 in December of next year.