“The winner to organise the 2022 World Cup is… Qatar”.
These words from former FIFA President Sepp Blatter were the words that shocked the planet. They were also the words that stuck a dagger into the hearts of football-loving Australians who yearned for the world’s greatest sporting tournament to be held down under.
Despite having presented a government subsidised bid, Australia was eliminated in the first round of the bidding process with FIFA citing limited revenue opportunities and poor timezones as the distinguishing factors that hindered Australia’s chances of hosting the coveted competition.
To see a country that isn’t exactly steeped in football history like Qatar be prioritised for the World Cup over Australia was a tough pill to swallow for fans and the FFA alike.
11 years later, Australian football is at a crossroads.
The newly established APL has agreed a landmark deal with Viacom/CBS for the broadcasting rights to the A-League and W-League while the FA bolstered the deal’s potential by ensuring that Socceroos and Matildas matches will also be streamed through this medium.
In news that is sure to excite Australian football fans, Football Australia CEO James Johnson confirmed that the FA are cautiously optimistic about preparing a bid for the World Cup in either 2030 or 2034.
“Part of our vision is that we want to host a men’s World Cup one day, the next time we could realistically host it is 2034,” Johnson told selected media on Thursday.
“There’s an opportunity to bring the World Cup back to the Asia Pacific [region] in 2034.”
Amid further speculation of co-hosting a World Cup with a fellow Asia Pacific nation, Johnson revealed that Australia will have to commit to co-hosting the World Cup with another country.
“If you look at the way certainly [FIFA President] Gianni [Infantino] is wanting to run his competitions, he wants cross-nation competitions.
“I don’t see any future World Cups being run by one country, so I think it is something that would need to be done with other countries in the region, both indeed the Asian region and the Oceania region.”
The FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held across Australia in 2023 and will provide the country with a more than adequate dress rehearsal to illustrate why a future bid for the men’s version of football’s greatest prize is indeed viable.
“We’ve got an opportunity with the 23′ Women’s World Cup and I think we will deliver an outstanding tournament.
“If we can deliver the best ever Women’s World Cup tournament then it does put you in a good position to take on more FIFA competitions, we saw that with Canada with 2015 and in 2026 they’re hosting men’s World Cup.”
Johnson’s comments represent a sense of optimism regarding the possibility for an Australian World Cup sometime in the future.
However, should the FA indeed follow-through and decide to bid for the World Cup, they must ensure that the bid is focused towards improving football as a whole in Australia. This includes the building of football-specific infrastructure that could be used at the World Cup.
While the new Sydney Football Stadium promises to be the best football-specific stadium in Australia, there is an alarming absence of suitable rectangular stadiums that meet FIFA’s required standards for the World Cup.
Melbourne’s AAMI Park and the newly-built Bankwest Stadium are both considered as world-class football stadiums but both fall short of FIFA’s requirement for World Cup stadiums to have a minimum capacity of 40,000 people.
Upgrades to both venues as well as the Socceroos’ pseudo home ground, Stadium Australia must be planned should Australia wish to bid for the World Cup.
Whilst Perth’s state of the art Optus Stadium as well as Melbourne’s sporting cathedral, the MCG fulfil FIFA’s capacity requirements, neither are suitable football stadiums and neither are steeped in football history.
Football Australia must ensure, above all else, that the World Cup heeds benefits for football rather than other codes. By building specific stadiums for the World Cup and upgrading already fantastic football stadiums, the FA has the opportunity to establish a football-specific legacy for decades.
Can you imagine walking into a newly-renovated Stadium Australia to watch the Socceroos play in front of over 80,000 people at the World Cup and then reminiscing on that day for years after?
Can you imagine the atmosphere that would be produced in a World Cup fixture at the new Sydney Football Stadium, an upgraded AAMI Park or even a renovated Canberra Stadium?
These are timeless events. These are events that can help to solidify the unique football identity that we have cultivated in Australia. New and upgraded stadiums will serve football for decades into the future.
Playing matches at the World Cup in already established bowl-shaped AFL and cricket stadiums is not right. It does not produce a good viewing experience. It does not produce a good atmosphere. Most importantly, it does not prioritise the greater good of football above all else.
Should Football Australia fail to prioritise the greater good of football above all else, any potential bids for the World Cup threaten to represent yet another missed opportunity for football in Australia.
Ultimately, any potential bid for the World Cup should receive enough government support to have a feasible chance in the bidding process. Additionally, it should place football at the forefront with the objective of capitalising on a once in a lifetime event that will solidify Australia’s place in footballing history forever.
Football Australia must do their best to ensure that this potential bid eventuates and thus lays the foundation for football in Australia for decades to come.