The World Cup seeks a new home
The World Cup for the years 2018 and 2022 will be awarded in Zurich Thursday, December 2nd after years of intrigue that have seen scandal (Tuesday's column), politicking and pointed questions about the process surrounding the world’s biggest and richest sporting event.
Originally, FIFA decided to award the two Cups simultaneously for commercial reasons. The Switzerland-based arbiters of the world game felt they could make more money on sponsorships and broadcasting by packaging two finals together. That may still prove to be true, but what FIFA has right now is a bid process stumbling towards the line.
Credible accusations of collusion between bid nations and a confirmed bribery scandal involving two senior FIFA members and four underlings have rocked the sport. This historically ethically-challenged organization may face legal action after all is said and done by a losing nation. In other words, it’s a mess.
Below, we examine each bid, ranked in the order we feel they will fall, choosing as our favorites Russia and the USA to host 2018 and 2022, respectively.
2018 ( Russia, England, Spain-Portugal, Belgium-Netherlands)
Then, there’s England’s media, which have been sharply critical of the less-than transparent bid process. A Sunday Times investigation led to the suspension of two FIFA ExCo members after they were caught on tape agreeing to trade cash for votes. The response from some FIFA types -- "blame the media" -- was hardly unexpected.
England could still come away winners, but many feel it will be in spite of the bid team’s work.
PROS: Wonderful support for the game, integrated transport, central location for both Europe and the Americas, fabulous stadiums, rapacious fans.
CONS: England’s sometimes-violent fans are a concern (but nothing like 20 years ago). The backers may have badly fumbled a bid that was thought to be a lock, and their media has been incisive about the costs and the corruption surrounding the Cup.
ODDS: 75% How England threw away a lock may become be tabloid fodder for a generation.
PORTUGAL / SPAIN
WHY: Spearheaded by Spain, the reigning world champions, the Iberian neighbors feel it is their time to host the Cup again (Spain hosted in 1982). They make a compelling case, pointing out that both nations are friendly, open and fairly wonderful at that. Both have experience in hosting major events -- Spain has also had the Olympic Games, and Portugal were excellent stewards of the 2004 European Championship.
The biggest issue is financial. Both nations are being rocked by the cascading debt crisis in Europe, and Portugal may require a bailout. As a result, the proposed high-speed rail links between the nations may not be completed, which would torpedo the bid. Security is also a concern, with the Basque separatist group ETA still a major presence in Spain (a cease-fire was announced in September, but ETA has observed, then abandoned, such cease-fires in the past). Finally, this bid has been accused of collusion with Qatar, though a FIFA investigation found no evidence of it.
Still, the food and the football in both countries are brilliant, and both are tourist meccas. The biggest concern really is FIFA’s distaste for joint bids in the wake of Korea/Japan 2002, though the biggest issues in that tournament (transport, malice) aren’t applicable visible here. The Spanish also claim to have locked up eight votes going in.
PROS: Facilities in Spain are top notch. Not so in Portugal, and there are questions about whether or not this country can get stuff up to snuff. Both nations are gorgeous, and at least one plays top-flight football.
CONS: Would anyone seriously give a major tournament to two countries currently gripped by a major financial crisis? Really? Security and transport issues are the other two biggies here.
BELGIUM / NETHERLANDS
WHY: This is a dark-horse bid, which is trying to make a quixotic case for hosting. In essence, the Belgians and Dutch are arguing that with their soccer legacy -- and unquestioned ardor for the game -- that it is their time. Furthermore, they press that if smaller nations such as theirs, with all sorts of transport and soccer infrastructure cannot host a tournament, than effectively, only “major” nations will ever get to stage an event of the Cup’s magnitude. That’s nice and logical -- and it will carry zero weight with FIFA’s voters.
Fact is, while both nations are lovely, and the two countries also have co-hosted a major tournament before (the European Championship in 2000), FIFA has openly expressed doubts that a 32-team spectacular is possible in these two countries.
PROS: Beer, steak frites, and Bruges. And that’s just in Belgium. Both countries are gorgeous, and while the quality of football in both domestic leagues has slipped, they can put on a show.
CONS: Stadiums are small. There are only three venues that can hold 50,000 at this time. Holland’s sometimes-violent fans are also a major concern. Neither government seems enthusiastic about funding a Cup in the way FIFA would like them to. The lack of space and hotel rooms raises eyebrows. Finally, see our note about joint bids.
Check out the 2022 bid here ...
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League, European and world football.