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England, it turns out, isn’t the only country in which the bidding process for the World Cup is starting to look like causing controversy. The process of selecting a dozen or so stadia to host matches for a World Cup finals shouldn’t, theoretically be a controversial one but, in England, the Football Association managed to alienate a large number of people in selecting Milton Keynes as one of its provisional venues. In America, meanwhile, a similar schism may be set to form after the bidding team ignored a couple of key areas of the country – Northern California and Chicago – in selecting its choices for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.
It is widely expected that the 2018 finals will be awarded to one of the European bidders, but 2022 may end up being a straight battle between the USA and Australia for the right to host what is still the biggest prize in world football. Eighteen cities have been selected as potential World Cup venues. Some predictable names are in the mix – Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Dallas are amongst them – but some of the others have provoked raised eyebrows. The mos notable omission seems to be Chicago. Chicago is the home of the United States Soccer Federation, and the recently renovated Soldier Field has hosted international matches before.
Why, then, was it missed out from eighteen venues selected? Some are laying the blame at the foot of the door of the city’s Mayor Richard J Daley. Daley – the son of the infamous Mayor Richard M Daley, who oversaw the city police department’s robust response to disorder at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – stands accused of having offered almost no support to the city’s bid for a place at any finals awarded. Daley had got behind Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, so why was there no support for the city to be involved in the World Cup? Was it merely a case of “once bitten twice shy” for Daley, or was he following an anti-football agenda? His city may get to repentent leisure.
The other main target of blame is, of course, the USSF itself. Any problems with Chicago’s bid notwithstanding, a federation based in the city should surely have been aware of its merits, shouldn’t it? As ever, the secrecy that surrounds such processes makes it diffiicult to make an informed judgement upon what the reasoning might have been (in such cases, in the interests of unity, it is usual to only discuss the winning cities), but one significant factor may turn out to be stadium size. Much is being made of the number of tickets that will be made available for any World Cup finals that is held in the United States of America.
The bid itself trumpets loudly that more than a third more tickets will be made available for 2018/2022 than were for the 1994 finals. The accusation stands that the list of potential venues is little more than a list of the biggest in the whole country, and that Soldier Field (with a stadium capacity of 61,500) didn’t make the cut on that basis. Size, however, isn’t everything. Soldier Field was only recently renovated and is an outstanding stadium for hosting football matches. Regardless of this, if it was part of the English bid for the 2018 World Cup finals, it would be the third biggest stadium to be used. FIFA sets a minimum capacity of 40,000 for World Cup finals venues. If the USSF is basing its application largely on potential ticket sales, it could find itself chasing the tail of what seems likely to be an effervescent Australian bid.
The Australian bid itself has, of course, also been subject to difficulties, with a row brewing over compensation for the use of Australian rules football stadia in the middle of the other code’s season. From a purely English perspective, there is a tendency to see problems and arguments with this sort of bidding process as being a purely British trait and it almost feels surprising to see other countries also coming up against difficulties in their bidding processes. However, there seems little doubt that one of these two nations won’t end up hosting one or other of these two tournaments, and the possibility remains that FIFA could award them one each, meaning that there would be an unprecendented twenty years – minimum – between World Cups being held in Europe.