The decision by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to bid on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups could possibly be seen as a blow to the attempts to coronate England as host of the 2018 event. It’s no small irony that England’s major competition may be from two other Anglo nations: The United States and Australia.
Most Australians and many Americans have a general affinity for all things English. The majority of multi generations Americans can trace their lineage to the British Isles and should naturally want to support an English bid. The popularity of the Premier League in the United States owes itself as much to a common language and a common heritage as to it does to good football. I can speak for myself and several of my friends who in college began following the infant Premier League closely even though at the time Continental football was considered superior. The issues of language and familiarity with English culture made it much easier to understand, as did the number of former NASL players that I was familiar with playing leading roles in the English game.
That’s why in many ways it is painful that the United States has decided to compete against the English bid for the 2018 World Cup. England is the home of world football and arguably still houses the best football on the planet. But at the same time, the United States and Australia both offer benefits that England cannot possibly replicate in 2018.
Many in the world football press which is heavily based around London have attempted to create inevitability around England’s 2018 bid. But following what may prove to be failed World Cups in 2010 and 2014, FIFA may opt for a safe choice. Why is England not a safe choice?
1) England does not have enough large stadiums. This was not a problem for France, but they hosted the event right after the money maker that was USA 94′. The World Cups in South Africa and Brazil may very well be debacles, and FIFA could well need to generate revenue to replenish the coffers in 2018.
2) Pitch size in English Stadiums save Wembley tend to be on the low end of the FIFA Regulations. Much like South Africa whose World Cup in 2010 could be marred by congested midfields and little flank play. Ironically this situation in 2010 should benefit England’s National Team who could realistically win their first World Cup since 1966.
3) While completely undeserved, England still has a reputation for Hooliganism abroad. The authorities in England have been exemplary in their efforts to clean up the violence that long surrounded English Football. But when you speak to football fans in various locales across the globe they still associate English fans and to a lesser extent Italian fans with violence. Again, this is a perception that does not mirror reality. The reality is that football related violence is on the increase in United States and is almost unheard of in today’s England.
4) A lack of major cities to host games. England’s bid can take comfort from France hosting the World Cup in 1998 with many of the same issues. However, as a destination where football fans from across the globe will want to travel to enjoy the World Cup and see major attractions as well, Australia and the United States again trump England. It must be assumed that as many of England’s potential venues as possible will be centered around Greater London, traditional Lancashire (Manchester and Liverpool) and perhaps the Northeast. On the other hand the United States and Australia can provide regional balance and different areas to host the games, and large cities that can absorb the number of visitors. Again England can counter stating that France held a semi successful World Cup in 1998 with many of the same limitations.
Sunil Gulati, the President of the USSF impressed English journalists last May before the US-England friendly at Wembley with his presentation as to the United States viability to bid in 2018. Previously the press based around London had ridiculed the US bid editorializing among other things about American Football lines on the pitch and Americans not understand Football. Perhaps England’s failure to qualify for USA 94 had allowed the English press to forget the success of that World Cup.
After meeting with Gulati it was revealed to the English, how deadly serious the United States was about 2018, and how strong the bid would be. The United States has developed its own indigenous football culture since the 1994 event, something that will be on full display next week in Columbus, a town whose only prior sporting culture was based around college athletics. The English media may continue to downplay the United States chances to win the right to host the 2018 World Cup, but chances are very great that FIFA will ignore this and opt for brining the world’s biggest sporting event back to the US.