Blatter’s move on World Cup bids is a good one… surprisingly

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.


36 thoughts on “Blatter’s move on World Cup bids is a good one… surprisingly

  1. A couple of things:
    1. Qatar sits on the 3rd largest gas reserves. Yeah, that’s picky.
    2. The current population is 1.4 million. In the entire country. 2/3 of it is in Doha.
    3. It’s a tiny, tiny place with virtually no infrastructure outside of Doha.

    The only reason it has even the slightest chance is because Mohammed Bin Hammam is AFC president. They’d have a much, much better chance if they made a joint bid with the UAE (adds about 6-7 million population and a whole lot more [substandard] infrastructure), but even then it would be a pipe dream. Yes, Abu Dhabi just successfully hosted the Club World Cup. Attendance was below expectations except for Barca (of course) and maybe Estudiantes, and transit was a joke. It rained like the world was coming to an end, but that’s something that wouldn’t be a concern in Spring-early Fall.

    Most of all, it’s seriously ********ing hot. It would almost have to be moved to the winter or exclusively domed, no matter where in the Gulf you had it. Of course we know that ain’t happening. Besides which, you run the risk of biblical, 100-year rains in winter (apparently – never seen anything like it).

    As much cash as the Gulf states have to throw at things like this, several state-of-the-art domed stadiums is going to be a real tough ask.

    No way Qatar is a serious contender without a joint bid. And even there, there are plenty of reasons to count it out. The Gulf states have made two decades of proving people wrong, but this would definitely be a bridge too far.

  2. I think you’re underrating the Australian bid. It has plenty of stadiums, is a growing soccer market, put on a knock-em-dead Olympics recently and after 2010 it would let FIFA say that the World Cup had been held on every continent. Plus they haven’t had one and the USA has, fairly recently. If they can hammer out a deal with their other football codes by December, I see them as more competition for the USA than Qatar.

  3. I’ve corrected the oil/gas error. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Regarding the other concerns, I agree almost entirely. I just think that Qatar may try and spend their way out of the weather problem and I refuse to underestimate Bin Hammam’s influence on the proceedings. All that being said, I still see the US as big, big favorites to be awarded the 2022 World Cup against its new Blatter-mandated opponents. My point is that I think Qatar is my “surprise” second favorite over presumed better bids from places like Australia, South Korea, and Japan

  4. There’s no doubt that Australia’s bid would have its strengths. But there’s some opposition already starting to bubble up from its established sports, and if those other leagues make too much noise, FIFA may shy away. I also think Australia’s distance from European TV markets may sway FIFA away from them and towards the USA. A tournament in the USA is far more valuable in terms of TV rights and more valuable in terms of sponsorship exposure. (US is a bigger market than Australia).

    Also, many of Australia’s large stadiums likely to be in the bid are old and oval shaped. Also, Melbourne in particular could be a problem with its major stadiums (the MCG and Etihad Stadium) being critical homes for the AFL in its geographic heartland and the country’s second largest city.

  5. Like I said, Bin Hammam’s the only real chance they’ve got.

    I simply can’t get past the population and wee tiny size. Their population isn’t going to increase to 10 million or more and their inhabited land area isn’t going to increase. May as well have it in Bahrain.

    I don’t know the typical numbers of visitors that go to World Cups throughout history (the US would probably be an outlier to the high end), but Qatar couldn’t possibly handle the influx even if they started building hotels now. UAE probably could do it from that perspective, but even then, it’s a huge burden. Another thing that would steer it away would be that I think a lot fewer people would be willing to go (for several reasons: 1. ignorance, 2. distance, 3. cost, 4. proximity to Iran and Saudi…feel free to add any more), cutting into FIFA’s profit.

  6. Whereas I think Australia is serious competition:

    A) Playing games in a cricket oval isn’t great, as they are very large and the midfield seats will be pretty far from the pitch, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker.
    B) There is opposition apparently, it seems to be over how profit is shared, and when that’s the case, there’s often a way to work it out.

    (EDIT, sorry, three more posts appeared after I wrote this).

    I do think TV is a serious issue. It’s balanced against the US having hosted it before, and any perception that may exist that Australia might be closer to the tipping point than the US.

    The US will also have a hotel advantage over Australia, and since the determination will occur after we find out how dire an effect the shortage will have in South Africa, it’s possible that will have a serious effect.

  7. That’s true enough, but the US has stadium problems of its own. IIRC, the ’94 World Cup used at least two stadiums that required special exemptions from FIFA because they couldn’t fit a regulation pitch in them (Detroit and Giants Stadium).

  8. Or at least gives lip service to it.

    The current list includes at least one stadium with the same problem (the Linc in Philadelphia). There are also eight stadiums on the list where temporary grass would have to be laid down over artificial turf (which there were complaints about in 1994 as well).

  9. Didn’t they play a friendly at the Linc recently?

    Also, grass-over-turf isn’t stuck in 1994, either. They’ve done it in Seattle and at least a few other places outside of the Meadowlands since then. I don’t think it’s going to be nearly the same level of concern. Now the primary tenants/facility owners know that hosting the event will be a tremendous boost, so they will make sure it’s not half-assed. Any future cup here will bear zero resemblance to 1994 from a stadium standpoint.

    Continuing to point to 1994 is like telling a 777 pilot, “you know, the Wright Brothers only flew a couple hundred yards”.

  10. To answer my own question, at least one Gold Cup Semi-final was at the Linc.

    In 2003, its first event was ManUre v Barca. Then they had some of the WWC there, so FIFA is definitely cool with it for its big events (yeah, I know, the WWC isn’t nearly on the same level, but in FIFA’s eyes it’s equivalent).

  11. I was there for the Gold Cup doubleheader; I know you can play soccer there.

    But that doesn’t mean the field can accommodate a pitch that meets World Cup size requirements. It can’t; the corners are too narrow. Neither could old Giants Stadium, for that matter, even though they played there. For Giants Stadium, they played on a field that was shorter than FIFA regulations required so that they could fit in the necessary width.

    I’m not saying it won’t happen or FIFA won’t make the exceptions they need. I hope they do. I’m just saying there are issues with some of the stadiums that will be taken into account, just as there are with the Australian stadiums.

  12. Apparently the Linc agreed to knock out several rows of seats to make it world cup compatible if they were selected to host games.

  13. It’s already hosted World Cup games (I know, I know…).

    I guess the real point is, most of these concerns could very easily be moot by 2022. Who knows what other stadiums will have been built by then. The Linc may be in the list now, but, as others have stated in other threads, there’s definitely no guarantee that it will remain there.

  14. Is alcohol allowed in qatar? Because Beer could be a deal breaker. I know its one of the more liberal countries in the middle east but I’m just wondering, because doesn’t the world cup usually have major deals with beer companies?

  15. Is it known that just non-European bids will be accepted for 2022? All of the reports I have read give the quote from Blatter indicating 2018 will be exculsively for Europe, but there is no quote specifically stating that 2022 will be for non-Europe only. It appears to just be assumed by the writers.

  16. The current FIFA policy states that the confederation that hosts a World Cup is ineligible to host either of the next two. That’s why no South American countries are bidding to host 2018 or 2022. If a European country is selected in 2018, then under current rules (which admittedly they could change any time) no UEFA member will be eligible to host again until 2030.

  17. Not 100% sure about Qatar, but in the UAE, you can drink all you want, just as long as you go to restaurants or bars in hotels. Or a golf course where a tournament is going on (actually was the ONLY place in the entire country – as far as I know – where you could have a beer on a weekend where it was banned due to Al-Hijra; that was the best sight ever). In other words, they can tweak the rules if it means getting more money out of a bunch of tourists. Advertising would probably be do-able, but selling it in the stadiums wouldn’t be.

    Bahrain is basically Saudi’s playground.

    Qatar, I think, is probably a tad more conservative than both regarding alcohol, but I imagine they can be “flexible” if need be.

    Then there are ex-pats who live in the region long-term and can essentially buy as much alcohol as they want (in the UAE, anyway – I imagine there’s similar for Qatar) if they purchase a “license”.

    So, basically, alcohol isn’t “banned”, but it is pretty strictly controlled, depending – literally, sometimes – on the phase of the moon.

  18. I looked it up, UAE is pretty similar. You can buy alcohol in hotels and and a few licensed bars or clubs and consume on the premises (but there’s a rule against ‘being drunk’ for whatever that means). There are also two licensed liquor stores in the country, and you have to get a special permit to buy from them, in which case you have to take it home right away and not show it or drink it in public.

    There’s sharia law, but only for Muslims, meaning the penalties for things like drunk driving or public intoxication would be different for foreigners than they are for the locals. Still, fairly strict control on the whole.

    I imagine strict enough for a lot of people to be fairly annoyed about it. Seems little chance they’d be selling at a stadium unless there was a special dispensation, and even then you’d better moderate your intake.

  19. One other point against the US (possibly the only one except having hosted in ’94 and that not turning this magically into a soccer country), which has been brought up and I agreed with but hadn’t mentioned here, is that it has gotten a bit harder to travel here in the wake of 9/11, and you can bet that at some point some bigwig got in a hassle and got pissed off about it.

  20. That’s a good one! Unless you are literally falling down in front of/vomiting on the shoes of a cop, you’re pretty much good to go – in the UAE. Qatar could be a different story.

    That’s about commensurate with the size of the country.

    Drunk driving, sharia or not, is something you DO NOT want to do. In fact, driving after consuming ANY alcohol whatsoever will get you deported at best, and in a hurry. They’re VERY strict about that. Otherwise, public drunkenness is too much for cops to bother with unless it’s really disturbing others or you puke on them directly.

    Like I said, in Abu Dhabi, they allowed alcohol on the golf course on a public holiday weekend where it was banned even in the hotel bars. I wouldn’t be shocked if they found a way to do it in stadiums, but there is a lot of ignorance-based fear of hooliganism from Europeans in the Gulf. Based on typical behavior of drunken Brits in the region, I sort of understand it – there are no more obnoxious people than drunk Brits in a country they used to essentially run. Way worse than the typical American or Aussie.

  21. Not all the Emirates are the same. Remember that UAE is more than a confederation than a single country. Dubai may be uber-cosmopolitan, but Abu Dhabi is a completely different place, and when you get out to the smaller places – even more conservative.

    I wouldn’t recommend any signs of public intoxication in Abu Dhabi – at all – if I were you.

    And, yes, I was there for the Under 20s in 2003, and somehow wound up inadvertantly being classified as part of the “FIFA Delegation” at the Hilton in Abu Dhabi (got me a driver when I needed it and some dry cleaning). The hotel bar was nice.

  22. I know that. I’ve only been there 10 times in the last 5 years. Abu Dhabi isn’t as staid as one would like to think. Not even close. Try that shit in RAK or Ajman and you’re not going to like the results.

    While it’s wise to be prudent, you should tell all the ex-pats walking back from the Killers concert at the Emirates Palace Hotel about that (8 December). Or the hotel-bar-hopping ones every Thursday night/all day Friday/ladies’ night (Wednesday). As long as you’re reasonably in control, you’re fine

    Which Hilton? There are 3.

  23. I remember heat was also a bit of an issue in 1994. Remember Jack Charlton having a furious argument with the 4th official because he wasn’t allowed to get water to his players during a break in play?

  24. As you hinted at FIFA has no firm rules. The rule you mention was broken when Germany hosted in ’06 after having France host in ’98. Perhaps the rule was changed after those sites were chosen, which would only give credence to FIFAs inability to follow their own rules (much like the continental rotation of world cups plan).

  25. Actually, not only was there no rule in place in 2000 when Germany was chosen, it was the Germany 2006 selection that made FIFA institute the continental rotation in the first place.

    They stuck to the original rotation plan for two Cups, South Africa and Brazil. But in Brazil, CONMEBOL basically gamed the system by only submitting one bid, leaving the rest of the FIFA members with no say at all in the selection. And of course a few years back there were serious concerns about South Africa’s readiness, not to mention that there were only two serious African bids in the first place.

    So after Brazil was selected, they put the revised system into place. I’m not saying they couldn’t scrap it now, but it seems unlikely–they stuck with the previous system for two cycles and then tweaked it into the current system rather than getting rid of it.

  26. Do you seriously think Qatar has a chance? Seriously? I can’t take this seriously when you list Qatar as a favorite when in fact it’s the exact opposite. South Africa will get another World Cup before Qatar does because Qatar will never get a World Cup. Ever.

    I think you’re underestimating the Australia bid. Considering they’ll have 11.5 years to prepare, I’m confident none of the issues you brought up with them will be a problem.

  27. The only real rub with the Australia bid is broadcast times. They bordered on nightmarish for 2002, and you’d risk putting the growing (and, by 2022, important) North and South American market in front of the tube at 3 a.m.

  28. I don’t think this rule changed anything. Before all of this talk about 2018 being European only bids, it was said that any confederation that hosts the World Cup will have to sit out 2 World Cups before they can host again. Europe was going to get 1 of the 2 no matter what. The only thing this changes is that it sets the hosting order. Europe will be before USA/Australia. Before this rule change the only difference is it could have ended up USA/Australia before Europe which no one thought would happen anyway.

    Also, I hope Qatar doesn’t earn a bid. I think FIFA needs to have a rule that you can’t host unless you qualified for 1 of the last 4 World Cups. If Qatar wins the bid then that will probably be their only bid ever.

  29. Any oil emirate looking to host sporting events of a massive scale needs only to look at Dubai’s economic collapse.

    Further collapses will ensue once the oil runs dry and/or the world is run off hydrogen fuel cells.

    USA by a mile.

  30. One more time: Dubai doesn’t have much, if any, oil. In fact, you can argue pretty successfully that one big reason they were in such a vulnerable position was that they DIDN’T have oil. They were overleveraged in real estate and massively reliant on the construction, banking and tourism segments of their economy.

    Abu Dhabi (which has quite a lot of oil – and gas) bailed the bastards out because they were able to fall back on their more resource-based economy when real estate, construction and banking went south. There are rather distinct economies at play in the different parts of the UAE.

    All that said, Qatar is beyond a pipe dream, and it’s something of a joke that they’re even trying. Even the rather Gulf-loyal (and intensely proud) locals in Abu Dhabi change the subject when you bring it up; they think their cousins have no chance either.

  31. Considering that both the World Cup and continental championships have seen moves toward co-hosting, I don’t think any small country is likely to host alone in the near future. I could certainly see Qatar hosting an Asian Cup, either alone or with Bahrain and/or the UAE, without controversy over the quality of the host teams – all those teams are good enough to be at the Asian Cup consistently without hosting. But of the small Gulf states, only the UAE and Kuwait have ever qualified, and only once each with their respective “Golden Generations”. Having two Gulf states co-host would seriously detract from the on-field quality of a World Cup.

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