Club World Cup worth a shot
We've had two years to get used to the idea that we won't be hosting the 2022 World Cup. They say time heals all wounds but Frank Lowy, for one, freely admits it's a scar he'll take to his grave.
We've had two years to get used to the idea that we won't be hosting the 2022 World Cup. They say time heals all wounds but Frank Lowy, for one, freely admits it's a scar he'll take to his grave. For the rest of us, it's just as hard to separate the hurt from the humiliation of one measly vote. But painful as it may be, there's one surefire way to turn the page. Bring another major FIFA tournament to Australia, and put on a show. If nothing else, it's a chance to prove to those who saw such little merit in our World Cup bid exactly what they missed out on.
Clearly, the 2015 Asian Cup is one such opportunity, but it's an event which technically it belongs to the AFC, and not FIFA.
No, what we really need to keep football bubbling along is to host a global event. FIFA events are awarded, as much as anything else, to help conquer new frontiers. Australia, in a football sense, still needs help. So we could do with a major FIFA event before 2022. The question is, which one? To me, the one event which has the stature - above all others - to sell football's universal appeal to such a discerning domestic audience is the FIFA Club World Cup. And right now, the 2015 (and possibly 2016) edition of the CWC is up for grabs. Should we bid? Why not?
In the pecking order of FIFA tournaments beneath the World Cup, the Club World Cup has moved into second place. Not as grandiose in scale, perhaps, as a Women's World Cup, or an under-20 world championship, but in terms of prestige and potential, the CWC remains a big opportunity that's only going to get bigger.
It hasn't always been thus, of course. The seeds of the CWC were sewn with the establishment of the Intercontinental Cup in 1960, but this was an event limited to the champions of Europe and South America, and for a variety of reasons (both sporting and political) the rules were often manipulated to suit the circumstances of the day. In truth, it never really caught on.
In 1974, the respected French newspaper L'Equipe first proposed the idea of expanding the competition to include Africa (and ultimately Asia). But it wasn't until 2000 that FIFA truly embraced the ideal of a global event, took ownership of it, and replaced what had morphed into the Toyota Cup with the CWC. Ange Postecoglou was there in Brazil with South Melbourne, and recently wrote an eloquent column reminding us of his excitement, and awe, at sharing the Maracana with the likes of Corinthians and Manchester United. Since then two Hyundai A-League clubs - Sydney FC (representing Oceania) and Adelaide United (representing Asia) - have flown the Australian flag on the world stage as the CWC has steadily, and inexorably, grown in prestige.
There's no doubt that in recent years the big European clubs have finally begun to treat the event with the respect it deserves ($20million in prizemoney obviously helps). And having crossed that rubicon, watch the CWC take off. This year's edition, currently being played in Morocco, marks the 10th anniversary of the CWC, and as a platform for motivating club football in the lesser confederations it's working a treat.
Last week Oceania minnows Auckland City once again gave a much bigger club (host team Raja Casablanca) a fright. Then the Morrocans themselves assumed the role of underdogs to knock out the more fancied Mexicans, Monterrey (CONCACAF). The rise of Chinese heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande (Asia) was confirmed by their victory over perennial African champions, Al Ahly.
These results, and performances, fascinate me more than the UEFA Champions League, or the Copa Libertadores, ever could. Listening to the Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis whinge last week about his team being knocked out of the Champions League made me wonder what planet he lives on. Certainly not the planet outside the five so-called 'big leagues' of Europe, which he believes should have sole access to the riches of the Champions League. And not the planet which FIFA hopes to make smaller by dividing wealth, and the opportunity, as equally as possible among all nations. Events like the CWC are critical in this regard.
Of course, it's likely to be a while before a club outside Europe or South America claims the world title. For instance Bayern Munich (Europe) and Atletico Mineiro (CONMEBOL) are at unbackable odds to make this weekend's final, and with the likes of Ronaldinho, Jo, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller on show, that's no surprise.
But if you believe (as I do) that it will only take a generation before leagues in places like Mexico, US, Japan, South Korea, China, Argentina, Brazil and perhaps even South Africa become the equal of most European competitions, then the evolution of the CWC is particularly significant. Which is why the event such a prize.
India has already made a formal bid for the 2015 event. Fresh from hosting the Asian Cup, and with a collection of world-class stadiums at our disposal, give me one good reason why shouldn't we join the race?