The competition for the 2018 and 2022 football World Cup hosting rights is panning out as a two-horse race between sporting rivals England and Australia.
Both countries have brought out some of their big names as ambassadors, England with David Beckham and Australia with Nicole Kidman. By 2018 both will have recent Olympics hosting under their belt – the Sydney 2000 Games and London’s 2012 Games. England has the edge when it comes to stadia, as it boasts sufficient stadium right across the country. It also has the edge when it comes to history – being the birthplace of football and having won the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
Australia is more the new kid on the block, but is rising fast. A revolution in Australian football, or soccer, quietly began a few years ago thanks to Frank Lowy and John O’Neill. Lowy, a billionaire businessman, is the chairman of the Football Federation of Australia (FFA), while O’Neill was the CEO of the FFA. Both were instrumental in establishing a new professional Australian football league – the A-League – and in moving Australia from Oceania into the Asian confederation of nations, just as Australia returned to the World Cup fold in Germany in 2006, 32 years after its first and last World Cup appearance in, ironically, West Germany in 1974. O’Neill may have returned to the rugby fold (he was one of the architects of Australia’s successful hosting of the 2003 Rugby World Cup), but Lowy has stayed with football and is leading Australia’s dual 2018/2022 World Cup bid.
Australia’s move into Asia has been a big success, with the Socceroos performance in Germany ranking them as the top nation in Asia. Australian players also continue to perform well in Europe, with the likes of Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Brett Emerton in England, Marco Bresciano in Italy and Harry Kewell in Turkey to name a few.
With 2010 in South Africa and 2014 in South America, both Europe and Asia have claims to the next World Cup tournament. Filling out the field for those bidding for 2018 and 2022, with some only bidding for one of the tournaments, is Russia, Spain and Portugal, Holland and Belgium, Japan, the US, South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar. For some of these countries, the fact they have been recent hosts may hurt their chances. Japan and Korea hosted the World Cup in 2002, while US hosted in 1994. Indonesia may not have the facilities to stage a World Cup, and at the moment its government is racked by a corruption scandal. Dual hosting bids also seemed to a reluctant move if past comments by FIFA are to be believed.
However, FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter has suggested that bidding for the 2018 World Cup may be restricted to just European countries. If this is the case, England has to be clearly the frontrunner. With a passionate fan base, the home of the Premier League and successful staging of Euro 96, on paper it edges out the rest. And for 2022 Australia must be one of the favorites, thanks to its reputation as a sporting powerhouse and because staging the World Cup there would follow FIFA’s goals of spreading the world game to all continents on the globe. Football is growing in Australia right now, and staging a World Cup there would only cement its position in a country where sport is the dominant religion. A good performance by the Socceroos in South Africa in getting past the group stage and making the next round will only further the hosting cause.
England versus Australia is usually a high-stakes battle played out on the cricket field, or in rugby union matches or at the Olympics. Big brother against little brother. Colonial parent versus the brash upstart. But in the game of World Cup hosting, these two nations are pitted against each other. If a deal for Europe for 2018 is struck this could present an opportunity for the two countries each to succeed, and not at each other’s expense. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Image: Kevin Coombs / Reuters
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