November 1, 2007

How to Win the World Cup

The question of how to win the FIFA World Cup has plagued coaches, players, pundits and billions of football fans around the world for decades. How to win the right to host the tournament, on the other hand, has become decidedly more straight-forward.

After its controversial decision to bring the Cup to South Africa in 2010, football’s world governing body announced on Tuesday that the biggest sporting event on the planet was going somewhere more familiar in 2014 – Brazil. As five-time winners, the home of the ‘beautiful game’ was a natural choice to host the quadrennial tournament. As The Economist was quick to point out, the decision puts Brazil on par with the other rapidly-developing ‘BRIC’ nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in welcoming a major sporting event in the next little while.

Like South Africa – another big, democratic, developing world host – Brazil’s corruption, transport infrastructure and security situation are being touted as the nation’s biggest challenges ahead of the competition. 19 cities, all looking for a share of the Cup’s considerable spoils, have applied for just 10 host city locations. The fifth-largest country in the world, the country is bound to have problems moving hundreds of thousands of fans into the interior if places like Rio Branco or Manaus are awarded any games.

But according to FIFA, the biggest problem with choosing Brazil was that it was the only choice.

Under the association’s ‘rotation policy’, each soccer federation – the groupings of nations within FIFA broken up roughly by continent – was to receive the rights to host the tournament in order, starting with Asia (South Korea and Japan) in 2002. After proceeding to Europe (Germany) last year and on to Africa in 2010, South America was up for 2014. The only problem was that Brazil won by default because they were the only country that put forth a full bid. For the supposed greatest sporting spectacle on earth, this was somewhat of an embarrassment.

So Sepp Blatter, the Swiss president of FIFA, has decided to put the tournament back on the open market. Even though it’s an absurd 11 years away, the 2018 World Cup has already received formal interest from 10 different countries. The USA and Mexico are talking about co-hosting, as are the Benelux nations. China – who conspiracy theorists believe the rotation was broken to accommodate – have expressed interest along with potential debutants Russia and Australia.

Frontrunners England, keen to rekindle the glory of 1966 when it hosted and won the competition, have dreamed up the “best British sporting decade in history” as the UK is slated to host the Olympics in 2012, the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and possibly the Rugby and Soccer World Cups in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

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