Tuesday, March 03, 2009

World Cup Bid 2018: Australia

With the 2010 World Cup barely visible on the horizon, thoughts are already turning to 2018 with many countries submitting bids to host the tournament nine years from now.

Much has already been said about those nations that have thrown their hat into the ring, but Some People Are On The Pitch is yet to give its opinion - until now. Here's the first part in our new series where we'll be weighing up the good and bad points of each candidate bid, and as we do so, feel free to give us your thoughts and opinions on the matter. You can also take part in our online vote at the foot of the page should you wish to express your allegiance.

If there's such a thing as a long shot that's worth backing, the Australian bid is probably it. When 2018 comes around, it will be the only continent yet to have staged the World Cup, and when you couple that with the fact that Australian football is rapidly on the up and up, FIFA may find it a difficult proposition to resist.

Had Australia put in a bid to host any previous World Cup, it might have won the sympathy vote amongst many of its peers. With only a single appearance in the 1974 Finals in West Germany before 2006, they'd have looked like a nation desperate for any help it could get in luring the World Cup to its shores, but that's no longer the case.

Forward steps
In 2005, Australian football took a few important leaps forward. For a start, it left the Oceania Football Confederation to become part of the Asian section, a move which ensured the Aussie national team would regularly get to play a better quality of opponent. In the same year, the Hyundai A-League was created, ensuring professional football would finally become a reality for players and fans alike.

Then came the cherry on top of the cake - qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Australia made sure it wouldn't just be there to make up the numbers either. Only a narrow defeat to Italy in the Second Round curtailed their hearty attempts to go all the way after a convincing 3-1 win over Japan and a creditable 2-2 draw against Croatia.

Since then, football in Australia has gone from strength to strength. The A-League is attracting more and more fans with every passing season and the national team has just reached its highest ever FIFA ranking - 27th in February 2009. Yet despite so many recent advances in the development of the game, it's the lateness of Australia to arrive at football's top table that may impede its chances of hosting the 2018 competition.

To begin with, there's the issue of stadia. As we've mentioned before Australia has many a large stadium in which to hold sporting events, but the majority of them are built for Aussie Rules Football or Cricket. Not a problem, you'd think, but putting a square pitch into a space that normally holds a circular or oval one poses all kinds of logistical problems.

Looking at the stadia used by clubs in the A-League, only three of the ten have a capacity higher than 35,000 and with the average capacity in Germany 2008 being around 53,000 it's fair to say there'll need to be some new venues built unless other existing stadia are upgraded.

Appetite for the game
It's said that FIFA have been impressed so far with the growing enthusiasm shown by the Aussie public for soccer, but quite how intent that same public is to withdraw some of its support from games like rugby and the aforementioned cricket and Aussie Rules will be a sign of how far things have really progressed.

And on the subject of devotion to other sports, FIFA's insistence on holding it's World Cup during June and July might upset a fair few people over there. If the big stadia need to be used, that'll mean Australian Rules Football and Rugby League games may need to be postponed to a later date or relocated some place else. Can you imagine Premier League games being dropped in favour of, say, Rugby World Cup matches here in the UK? Thought not…

Any remaining doubts for the Aussies (at least on this occasion) might be in the form of two matters that are fundamentally out of their control. Firstly, the TV market for football is in Europe and as such a World Cup taking place some ten hours ahead of CET won't be viewed upon favourably by the World Cup's many and varied commercial stakeholders.

Secondly, FIFA have said the World Cup shouldn't go to a third successive southern hemisphere country after South Africa and Brazil and has recommended Australia bid for the 2022 Finals instead. On this point specifically, it seems FIFA are standing on particularly shaky ground. The last seven World Cups going back to 1982 have all been held in a northern hemisphere country, and its with this blinkered logic in mind that the Football Federation of Australia are rightly standing firm on their intent to host the 2018 Finals.

And they have the organisational nous to do it too. Down the years, Australia have hosted two FIFA Under-21 World Cups, the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup, the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the 2000 Olympics. Never let it be said that the Aussies aren't new to this kind of thing.

So with the backing of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, it seems Australia will no doubt be a force to reckon with when FIFA's representatives sit round the table to make their final decision. And why not give the World Cup to a country that hasn't hosted the World Cup before? It's supposed to be a world game, right? So let's see if FIFA can walk the walk on this occasion, not just talk the talk. Over to you, Mr. Blatter...


Anonymous said...

The strength for the Aussie bid will be their background in organising major sporting events.

Stadiums won't be a major problem, there are already commitments to build new stadiums or upgrade existing ones plus currently 8 that seat more than 50,000. In any case there are a huge amount of smaller League and Rugby stadiums that can be upgraded to suit World Cup sized crowds.

The TV issue always seems to be brought up for World Cups but surely with Asia in the same timezone and a far greater population than that of Europe a World Cup in Australia would be more attractive for FIFA.

C. Wright said...

As much as I would love England to get it I would also love Australia to get it. They have never had it before so why not let this show that football truly is a worldwide sport. The TV coverage has always managed to be gotten around by playing matches in the afternoon and showing them over here in the morning, no different from the Beijing Olympics or the Australian Open just a few months ago.

Chris O said...

Agreed on both counts, Anonymous. Will the stadia be filled after a World Cup, I wonder?

I agree with you too, C. Wright. If there's a demand for the event, the people will watch (one way or the other)...


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