Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Is 2018 a Real Possibility for the U.S.? I recently discounted the USSF's chances of bringing the 2018 FIFA World Cup to the United States, but I might have been a bit hasty in reaching that conclusion. FIFA President Sepp Blatter's comments suggest that he is leaning in that direction. My reasoning was that FIFA's rotation has the World Cup coming to South America in 2014. I believed it highly unlikely that FIFA would schedule back-to-back Cup finals in the Western Hemisphere. Blatter suggests that the rotation would put the CONCACAF region next in line, since the European (UEFA) region hosted the most recent tournament.

Certainly, what Blatter proposes is a more balanced approach. In the past, the rotation has been one Cup finals in Europe, followed by a finals hosted outside Europe four years later, only to return to Europe in four more years. That system is outdated and should be scrapped, but the reality is that the rotation system should be somewhat skewed towards European hosts -- at least for the foreseeable future. Few countries outside of Europe are capable of staging a wildly successful tournament.

Staging every other finals in Europe is too much -- the Cup shouldn't be in Europe every 8 years. The reality though is that Europe is far ahead of the other regions in terms of population, wealth, development and depth of fan base. There are reasons why the top six leagues are all located in Europe.

I think that every 3rd tournament ought to be located in a European country, which would mean the 2018 tournament would be held in Europe. This would reflect the fact that Europe has twice, or even three times as many countries capable of hosting than any other region. Next in line, among European countries, likely would be England, and probably Holland twelve years later. Russia would be a contender, but might have to wait a further twelve years.

Under my scheme, a European finals would be followed by a North American tournament, and then an Asian country would host. The finals would then return to Europe, to be followed by tournaments in Africa and South America, before starting the cycle all over again.

The 2010 finals are already set for South Africa, and the 2014 finals are virtually certain to be hosted by Brazil. England ought to be the favorite for the 2018 tournament, the United States the choice for 2022, and Australia the likely choice for 2026. Then, it would be time for another European host, possibly Holland or Russia.

If a European finals every twelve years is too often for FIFA, then what about every fourth finals, which would be once every sixteen years? It lacks the symmetry of my suggested every 3rd time, but might seem less Euro-centric. Eventually, other regions may catch up to Europe in development, and a regular rotation would be appropriate. Right now, it's not.

Blatter did recognize that some FIFA members would want to treat the South American and North American continents as one region for purposes of the rotation, which could make a little sense. After all, there are only three CONCACAF countries that are large enough to host the Cup finals, and Canada is a long way off from being a host. Of course, with the balanced rotation, it would be at least 40 years between Cup finals in the United States, which doesn't seem too close in time. A strict rotation would mean that the World Cup would only reach Europe every 20 or 24 years (depending on whether the Oceania region would be awarded a Cup, which seems highly unlikely).

Ultimately, there will be a rotation system -- the biggest question is whether the five regions (excepting Oceania) will be equal within the rotation. As an American, I would like to see two more Cup finals here in my lifetime (if I live that long), so I should be for a more balanced rotation. I'm just not sure that makes sense.

In any case, I think that FIFA should not treat the South American and North American/Caribbean regions as one area for rotation purposes. I would prefer that FIFA find another way to solve any reluctance to schedule finals on this side of the world twice every 20 years. My suggestion is to skew the rotation system, so Europe hosts more often than the other regions. While I would love to have the United States host as soon as possible -- which would seem to be 2018 -- I don't know that it makes good sense to put South America and North America back-to-back in the rotation. On the other hand, if FIFA is OK with it, then so am I.

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