All I Want for my Birthday…

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… is for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be hosted in Australia.

Is that so much to ask? I’ve gone to A-League games and watched South Korea crush Turkmenistan in sub-zero temperatures in Seoul. I think I deserve this.

Korean fans resort to drastic measures to stay warm during South Korea's 5-0 win over Turkmenistan in Feb 08. Photo by Joy Hodge

Later today the esteemed folk at FIFA will make their decision regarding where the biggest sporting event in the world will be hosted in 2018 and 2022.

With Brazil etched in to host the 2014 edition (and me etched in to be somewhere in South America for the event), the outcome of this all important vote will go a long way toward deciding just where I will be in these two years.

2018 has come down to England, Russia, Spain/Portugal, or Belgium/Holland. I’ve got to say that I wouldn’t be at all put out to spend a month or three in any of these places. If I had to choose one based on my interest in the region, the Iberian bid would win it for me. Spain has such a fascinating culture and intoxicating women, and Portugal is one of those unfortunate European afterthoughts that seems to be missed on most itineraries for one reason or another.

With that said, Belgium does provide me with more readers than any of the above countries. Out of loyalty I should perhaps spare them a thought.

But 2022 – now that’s the one I’m most interested in. The bidding nations are the United States, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, and Australia. Of these three have hosted a World Cup in the past – with the United States holding the very successful 1994 tournament and Korea & Japan sharing the tournament in 2002. These last two are considered the least likely to get the cup, as just twenty years will have past by the time their turn rolls around. And while Japan has made an effort to personalize their bid by emphasizing their country’s technological advances by offering holographic coverage and the like – South Korea seemed content to simply roll out the same venues and rely on the fact they’ve got a member of the voting committee as the head of their football association.

A trio of Brazilian Australians enjoying the 2010 FIFA Fanfest at Darling Harbour. Photo by Fallon Fehringer

It will end up boiling down to Qatar, the United States, or Australia. Each of the bids offers FIFA some crucial territory to expand into. The US is still a sleeping giant in footballing terms but has been going from strength to strength on the back of an always improving MLS competition – whilst Qatar affords the diplomats and politicians at FIFA an opportunity to host a World Cup in the Middle East. The Qatar bid is certainly an interesting one – with all manner of artistically stunning stadiums and an underground venue on the cards. The issue with Qatar’s bid is the small size of the nation and the fact games would need to be played in near crippling summer heat, and no amount of air conditioned stadiums and state of the art cooling methods are going to change that. Then there’s that small ‘no alcohol’ thing that comes with being an Islamic state…

What does the Australian bid have? I’ll try and remove my biased glasses and look at it as objectively as I can, but bear in mind that this is a man who wept openly when John Aloisi slotted home that winning penalty against Uruguay in late 2005 to put us into our first World Cup since the 70s. I’m up at the crack of dawn for every Socceroos’ game regardless of what side of the world I’m on, and I can’t see that ever changing.

Oceania, the minnow confederation to which Australia once belonged, has never hosted the tournament. It remains the only confederation under the FIFA umbrella to have never hosted a tournament, and with New Zealand the only sizable nation remaining in the region after Australia made the move into Asia – it seems unlikely that the tournament will ever grace the region if Australia aren’t the ones to do it. A Cup in Australia has the benefits of bringing the game to its last untouched frontier whilst still placing it close to the ever growing Asian market. FIFA may worry that a World Cup on this side of the world will detract from the lucrative North American and European TV markets – but the majority of the world’s population just happens to live on Australia’s door step, and who knows what kind of TV rights they’ll be offering by the time the Cup rolls around.

Fans out in force to watch Sydney FC vs. Newcastle Jets in the A-League. Photo by freakingawesomemonty

It’s more than just dollars and cents though. Australia remains one of the world’s most beloved travel destinations. With just about every climate and terrain type represented, fans would not only get to see world class football being played in state of the art facilities – they’d be doing it while finding time to scuba dive the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, spot crocodiles in Kakadu National Park, surf the beaches of Manly, drive the Great Ocean Road, and swim with dolphins on the west coast.  It wouldn’t just be meat pies and kangaroo kebabs at the games – it would be Australia’s vast multicultural population showing the world that there is more to Australian cuisine than beer and Vegemite.

Estimates place the value of winning the right to host a World Cup in the billions, and ideally it wouldn’t just be Australia’s travel hot spots that would benefit from this influx of cash and tourists. Australia’s east coast might be seen as the be all and end all by a lot of travelers, but there’s a whole wealth of sights and sounds to be experienced elsewhere. There’s skiing to be done in the Snowy Mountains and beautiful caves to be explored in the Blue Mountains. There’s ancient rainforests in the far north, and the hidden river canyons of Western Australia. There’s wine to be sampled in South Australia and the Hunter, and wild cattle country in spades in central and western Queensland.

Cities such as Newcastle, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Adelaide, and even smaller centres such as Armidale, Wollongong, and Geelong could use the tournament to put themselves well and truly onto the travel map. Come 2023 these cities could be basking in a renaissance in the afterglow of the World Cup. Backpackers out for sun and surf might spend a few weeks partying in a glitzier Newcastle while the adventurous might fancy an authentic outback experience launched from steamy Darwin. Armidale’s Celtic heritage and Tamworth’s laid back country charm might draw travelers to come a bit farther inland, while Geelong might give people in Victoria something to visit outside of Melbourne.

Showing my colours for Australia Day in 2008. Photo by Brodie Rember.

I’ve got a great deal of pride in my country, not just as a sports fan and an Aussie, but as a traveler. I’m new to this travel thing and I’ve got a lot of places to go on my ever growing list – but when it’s all said and done and I’m ready to settle down, you’d best believe I’m going to take my time and experience as much of this beautiful, varied country as I can. Nothing would make me happier than FIFA giving the rest of the world license to discover just how amazing Australia really is.

So come on guys, forsake a bit of US dinero and do the right thing. Bring the World Cup to Australia and let us show the world just what a vibrant and fascinating place Australia really is.

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