On Friday morning in Zurich, federal sports minister Kate Ellis, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy and CEO Ben Buckley will officially present FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, with Australia’s bid documents to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
It will be a long day. After Australia’s allotted 15 minutes, bids from England, Holland/Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the USA will enjoy their own formal ceremonies and answer questions from the media.
The contents of Australia’s Bid Book, the official document, remain secret. We do know it is bound in kangaroo leather, runs to 760 pages, and its argument is based on regional proximity to Asia and “world class” stadiums.
The problem for Frank Lowy ahead of the December 2 vote that will reveal the successful bids? Those very reasons may be exactly why the 2022 World Cup will go elsewhere (if we agree that 2018 will be won by a European bidder).
Last Friday, the New Meadowlands stadium outside of New York opened its doors with a soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador in front of a 75,000 sell-out crowd. While Australia’s bid has wrestled with state governments and the AFL over access to grounds across the country, the New Meadowlands is the fourth major state-of-the-art stadium opened in the New York area in the past 12 months.
“These type of buildings are built regularly in the United States and these buildings have to be built with an international football crowd in mind,” explained David Downs, the executive director of the US bid, in one of the stadium’s luxury hospitality suites before the opening game.
Importantly, no public funds are required for the US bid campaign, nor to build infrastructure should it win. That’s unlike Australia, which has received $46 million from the federal government to fund its bid, with more to be spent on stadium upgrades.
Domestically, the AFL and NRL are nervous about the prospect of a World Cup in Australia, blocking access to stadiums or demanding compensation. Things are different in America.
“I can tell you they are all encouraging our bid,” Downs said of other sports in the US. “We met with the NBA about approaching several NBA players to endorse our bid. They were delighted that we were going to reach out to them.”
Australia’s strong selling point is its proximity to Asia, considered the future of football, at least in an economic sense. Australia’s approach is dead-set right but, argues one senior international soccer official with an open line to some FIFA Executive Committee members who will vote on hosts, Asia really equals China.
China did not bid for either 2018 or 2022, preferring to resolve issues within its domestic game — but there’s always 2026.
“There is no way the 2022 World Cup will go to Asia, because that would shut China out for up to 20 years,” the official said.
“If FIFA is serious about opening up Asia then the launch pad for that is really China, not Japan, Korea, Qatar, or even Australia.”