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The Cup Running Over


November 23, 2010 7:45 AM

World Cup 2022: Losing to Australia Would Be One Thing, But Could the US Lose the Hosting Contest to (Gulp) Qatar?

The intrigue continues in the world of soccer's equivalent to the proverbial smoke-filled room. Yesterday, we previewed the controversy-ridden, conspiracy-laden run-up to the selection of the host country for the 2018 soccer World Cup. On that same December 2, of course, the 22 international selectors will also pick the 2022 host, and among the contenders is our very own land of the free (not that you'd know it from the relative lack of coverage, compared to the coverage elsewhere).  In any event, here's a rundown of the competition for those of you marking your ballots at home, in the reverse predicted order of finish.


SOUTH KOREA

Bottom line: Way too soon

Advantages:
Was an admirable co-host of the 2002 tournament. Most of the infrastructure is already in place and no one doubts that South Korea would be ready for 2022. According to a Google survey, it had the fourth most loyal fans in 2010 - behind Brazil, Germany, and Holland. FIFA head Sepp Blatter says the tournament would help reunite North and South Korea, since there is talk that a few of the games might be played north of the border.

Disadvantages: Sepp Blatter has no idea what he's talking about, especially after the events this morning: North Korea and South Korea appear to be at war. Plus, returning to a host country after only 20 years would be virtually unprecedented. If the delegates think China is going to bid in 2026, going to Asia again in 2022 doesn't make a lot of sense.

Prediction: Yes, it still smarts in South Korea that it had to co-host with traditional foe Japan but that isn't reason enough to return to this country after so short a period. No chance.


JAPAN

Bottom line: No way also


Advantages: See the above, minus the part about loyal fans and reuniting North and South Korea. Also promises to set up 400 fan fest sites around the world, featuring holographic images of the games.

Disadvantages: Ditto from above, minus the part about war.

Prediction: Yes, it also still smarts in Japan that it had to co-host with traditional foe South Korea but that isn't reason enough to return to this country either after so short a period. Plus, it's very hot in Japan in the summer, leading to less than stellar action. Forget about this one too.


AUSTRALIA

Bottom line: In the right place but it must have been the wrong time


Advantages: Face it: People probably think more warmly about this country than any other on earth and Oceania has never hosted. Hosted perhaps the best Olympics in 2000 and no one doubts they could do something similar again. The tournament would be held during winter (as in South Africa), which means optimal soccer weather. Gave out the best "gifts" to delegates - trendy UGG boots. (Also gave out a boomerang.)

Disadvantages: Not the largest population (20+ million), though compared to Qatar, it's India. Fans would have to travel a long way to get there and it's not a soccer hotbed, a la the US. Leads the world in car thefts per capita. But the real problem (other than the fact that Rupert Murdoch was born there) is the time difference. To put on the games at the same times in Europe and the western hemisphere that they occurred in 2010 in South Africa (which was TV optimal), you'd have to kick off some games at 9:30 pm local time, others at midnight, with the final being played at (yikes!), 5 am. Unlikely.

Prediction: Trouble with time zones, means trouble selling TV rights, which means trouble generating money. If the issue were anything else, Australia would probably win. It's said some delegates may not want to vote for Australia if the tournament is going to China in 2026 though one has to wonder why: Sydney is 5600 miles from Beijing.


QATAR

Bottom line: A hot contender

Advantages:
Talk about groundbreaking: FIFA hasn't hosted a tournament anywhere near the Mideast, nor in a country of only 1.6 million.  All game venues would be within an hour of one another. The Arab world has united behind the bid and it has French superstar Zinedine Zidane campaigning openly for it. Super high tech stadiums are planned, which will control the temperature on the field and in the stands. Parts of the stadiums will be disassembled after the Cup and given to poorer nations. No one doubts that the money is there to build everything needed - and more; the bid mentions an astounding $43 billion in new spending. But that's par for the course in what may be the world's richest country. Qatar also has one of the lowest global murder rates and the lowest prices for Big Macs in the world: Are the two related?

Disadvantages: Will the air conditioning work? Otherwise, we're talking temperatures of 100 degrees plus, hot enough to - yes - heat one of those cheap Big Macs. Once the games are over each day, what will anyone do, except go back to the hotel? Alcohol may be hard to come by - though maybe that's a plus if it keeps England's fans at home. Does a country so small deserve to host? Accused of "colluding" with the Spain/Portugal 2018 bid but then absolved. No one knows how to pronounce it.

Prediction: Don't underestimate this bid: The Arab world can call in a lot of chits from all over the world. And beating the "Great Satan" (aka the US) in the race to host would be sweet indeed for many. Still, the heat is a huge problem, as is the fact that few can envision spending a month in Qatar in the summer. Whatever: This bid has a better chance than many think.



qatar_desert_sands.jpg
Will soccer journalists have to spend a month here?



USA

Bottom line: Money talks

Advantages:
It's the Benjamins. Many in world soccer still think this is the Promised Land as far as potential markets go, though they thought the same thing in awarding the US the Cup in 1994. Nothing new would have to be built and sellouts would be guaranteed in huge stadiums, which is why the '94 tournament may have been the most successful one financially.

Disadvantages: The 1994 tournament may also have been the worst aesthetically, since the temperatures in venues such as LA, Dallas, and DC were so high that the quality of play suffered greatly (a 0-0 final decided on penalty kicks), and unexpected teams such as Saudi Arabia flourished. (At the opening ceremonies, Oprah Winfrey also fell off the podium and Diana Ross missed an honorary penalty kick - though that might only mean she could start for England.) Travel distances are extreme. Home to MLS, aka Minor League Soccer. If the dollar keeps heading south at its current rate, even the financial benefits may not be what they seem today. But the real problem is that everyone knows that at bottom, soccer is never going to be more than a minor sport in the US: Even during the last tourney, we remained one of the few nations in the world where the Cup is a national afterthought.

Prediction: Money makes the world go round, or so they say. But there is the traditional dislike of Uncle Sam in certain quarters, which is why the Guatemala delegate is said to be considering a vote for one of the others, which would be almost unheard of - home confederation delegates almost always vote for one of their own. A final vote between the US and Qatar or the US and Australia could be very interesting. Not in the bag by any means.


Our Odds:

USA: 3-2
Qatar: 5-3
Australia: 4-1
Japan: 80-1
South Korea: 100-1



Next week: Full coverage of the selection process



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