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World Cup venue for sale at any price

Just noticed this on the BBC about the race for countries wanting to host the 2018 Football World Cup. I have one main concern with the proposed host nations. Who?

It's encouraging - very encouraging - that smaller nations are striving to host such a major event. Ambitious building projects bring in capital, the country improves etc. etc. Basically, hosting the World Cup energises the country in exactly the way hosting the Olympics does not.

However, it seems to be getting less about the football.

Eyebrows were raised when the USA hosted the global tournament in 1994 because their chances of passing the group stages were slim, effectively killing any local atmosphere for the more interesting knockout stages (it also didn't help when an unnamed American expert said 'soccer' was the fourth-most popular sport in the country after baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey - add that one up). To be fair, the USA got to the last 16 - i.e. the second round - before losing only 1-0 to eventual winners Brazil, but fans the world over were still far from convinced with the country's supposed love for the sport.

Eyebrows were raised yet further, somewhere into the fringe, when the 2002 World Cup was offered to South Korea and Japan, but again a surprise was in store: joint hosts South Korea reached the semi-finals, beating Portugal, Spain and Italy on the way. Fair play - but two goals in five and a half hours of football in the knockout stages showed their lack of real talent. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

Still people remain unconvinced by smaller footballing nations hosting the World Cup and yes, I am in that category (uh, in that I'm unconvinced, not a small footballing nation).

Now we have Qatar and Indonesia wanting to host the 2018 World Cup. Neither has competed in the tournament ever before, although Indonesia technically did in 1938 when they were the classed as the Dutch East Indies. A rich footballing history there, then.

Qatar, meanwhile, has a population of only 1.3 million and will struggle to persuade players to play in a sweltering Arab desert in the middle of summer. Even the proposed underground stadium - an admittedly cool idea (pardon the pun) - will only host 11,000 fans. That's just not feasible.

(Khalifa Stadium's nice though.)

And yes, Japan, South Korea and the USA are all bidding again. God help us.

Of course it would be short-sighted to suggest only the best of the best footballing nations should host the World Cup. It is important to give these smaller teams the chance to improve their sporting prowess as well as their infrastucture (look at the Italian rugby team improving since the Six Nations). But surely one prerequisite should be that they're good at football. What's the point letting Indonesia host the tournament if they're just going to be humiliated in every match?

It is no longer about the football. It's about the money. Good for a country's infrastructure and development, yes, but not so much for fans all over the world.


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