In arguably the least surprising piece of sports news of the week, the Football Association has finally confirmed that yes, England will be bidding to host the World Cup. Well, we’d never have guessed, would we? It will have been fifty-two years since “The Home Of Football” (and that’s the sort of phrase that you can expect to hear a lot of over the next couple of years or so) last hosted the tournament, so it kind of feels right that they should be throwing their hats into the ring, but there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about what sort of tournament that the FA will be planning.
I don’t consider it an unreasonable statement to say that Sepp Blatter’s idea of a rotation policy around the FIFA confederations has been a failure. The unopposed application of Brazil to host the tournament in 2014 is proof of that in itself. The rotation policy was ill-conceived from the start – why should Central & North America get the same number of World Cup tournaments as Europe and Asia, if there are only three countries in the region that could reasonably be expected to host the tournament (one of which – Canada – seems to have no inclination to do so)? Much as FIFA may not like the fact, the six confederations that make it up are not equal, and the World Cup should go to the strongest applicant in the world. FIFA’s rotation policy allowed CONMEBOL to carve up the bidding process for the 2014 tournament.
So, what might an England bid look like? The BBC lists the following stadia as the most likely to be used: Wembley, Old Trafford, Emirates Stadium, St James’ Park, Stadium of Light, City of Manchester Stadium, Villa Park, Stamford Bridge, Elland Road and the planned stadia at Liverpool, Everton, West Ham and Nottingham. I’d be interested to know where this information came from, as it is an established fact that FIFA prefer only one stadium per city to be used, with one city (in the case of an England bid, almost certainly London) allowed to use two stadia. This would, at a stroke, eliminate the use of Stamford Bridge, City of Manchester Stadium, the new West Ham stadium and one of the two stadia in Liverpool, unless the FA can persuade FIFA to the contrary. I would be less than surprised to see this list changed, with Sheffield and somewhere else in the Midlands (possibly Derby, Leicester or Wolverhampton) being considered. It would also be wise for the FA to consider somewhere else in the south – Portsmouth, Southampton or Reading, perhaps, or even in Bristol.
The other likely bidders are a mixed bag. Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg are planning a joint bid, in spite of FIFA not wanting any more shared tournaments after the strangely disjointed tournament in Japan & South Korea in 2002. Spain is said to be considering a bid, but hasn’t confirmed yet. Australia has some of the stadia in place (but not all of them – four would have to be built from scratch), but would suffer even more than England if FIFA was to insist on one per city, due to its concentration of population. They also suffer from a problem which may affect China, another potential bidder – a lack of football heritage. The World Cup went to America, South Korea and Japan because they were massive and largely untapped markets. In global terms, Australia, with a population of just under twenty and a half million people, is not a massive market. China would be able to provide the stadia and the potential market there is so big as to be almost beyond comprehension. However, their one performance at the World Cup, in 2002, was abysmal and they failed to qualify for Germany 2006. Also, the pacific nations suffer because of their time zone. The lucrative European and American TV markets suffered, ratings-wise, in 2002, and FIFA will be mindful of that. Jack Warner, the disagreeable FIFA vice-president who runs CONCACAF as his own personal fiefdom, wants to bring the tournament back to North America, but it would appear to unlikely that Mexico would be granted a third World Cup in less than fifty years. An attractive American bid would turn heads, but it is almost certain that FIFA would request soccer-specific stadia, rather than the mish-mash of college football and NFL stadia that were used in 1994.
So, the race is on, I guess, and we have several years of bluff and bluster to look forward to. Until further details on the bids are available, it’s difficult to mark anyone out as the favourite or dismiss anyone. Still, after fifty-two years, it is about time, isn’t it? Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the FA make a better job of it than they did last time.