The Al-Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
The Guardian is reporting that FIFA and Sepp Blatter are set to announce that the 2018 World Cup bid process will be limited to European countries while the non-European bids will chase after the 2022 World Cup.
Believe it or not, I think this is a good move. For one, with the removal of strong English and Iberian bids, it turns the USA into a monumental favorite for 2022 over Australia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar. Also, it simplifies a process that was looking increasingly inscrutable and complicated from an outsider’s perspective.
Here’s why the US would turn into an almost prohibitive favorite. First of all there are all the usual benefits touted of the US bid like how all the stadiums are built, and all our infrastructure advantages and the numbers of hotel rooms and so on. But if the 2022 bidding is limited to non-European bids, that means the US becomes one of only two bids (along with Qatar) that could play matches in European primetime, thus maintaining or increasing the lucrative value of FIFA’s European TV contracts. Also, if the bid is pushed to 2022, it increases the chances that the bid could include the new NFL stadium being touted for Los Angeles in City of Industry.
The other bids would appear to have major weaknesses that the US doesn’t have to contend with. Australia has stadium issues (not enough rectangular ones) and opposition from many of those stadiums’ tenant rugby clubs who (unlike US stadium tenants) would find their seasons disrupted by the World Cup and its preparations.
Japan and South Korea could present strong separate bids using the 2002 stadiums as their backbones. Those two countries’ biggest problem is that they hosted a World Cup more recently than the USA did. I guarantee that Japan or Korea will host a second World Cup. I just don’t think it will be before the US hosts its second tournament.
Qatar is a very intriguing opponent and probably should serve as the US’ biggest worry. It’s in the heart of the Persian Gulf which has always served as major power base for Sepp Blatter’s reign as FIFA President. Additionally, it would bring the World Cup to the Arab world for the first time. Of course, Qatar also sits on the world’s third largest gas reserve, so money would not be an issue for its bid. Would FIFA require nothing but domed venues for a summer tournament to be held in the Middle East? Maybe, and Qatar might not even blink at that kind of expense. Finally, Qatar is in the midst of a major sports push after hosting the 2006 Asian Games. The country is already hosting the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and is also bidding on the 2020 Olympic Games. While Qatar still has some hurdles to overcome (no stadiums over 50,000 capacity), its staggering financial capacity will make it a difficult opponent for the US bid. All that being said, the US can point to its stadiums and hotel infrastructure and say that it could host a World Cup right now. Qatar cannot say the same.
Moving back to 2018, this move turns this race into a straight-ahead battle between England, Russia and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium. My guess is that, assuming you don’t see the Premier League or some of its big clubs (Manchester United and Liverpool, this means you) fall into total financial crisis, England and Spain/Portugal would be the two favorites for 2018. At this moment, I’d tip England as the very slight favorites.
What all this means is that fans hoping for a US-hosted World Cup should support this decision by Blatter and FIFA. Sometime a fat, Swiss squirrel with a penchant for women in garters does in fact find a nut.