A USA World Cup v2.0 is looking good

 

This week Francis Awaritefe, a former Nigeria-raised striker with the Australia national team and now a pundit with a television network down under, took me to task for suggesting the United States was a shoo-in for winning the World Cup hosting rights to 2022.

Hardly an outlandish suggestion but Australians, renowned for their never-say-die-attitude, also have a unbecoming habit of putting their blinkers on and typically don't like it when one of their own ­(I am in fact Australian, not English) goes against the tide of popular opinion.

Australia, according to the bookmakers' odds, is in a two-horse race with the USA to land 2022.

For me, the argument is pretty simple: USA 94 was a massive success in attendances, audiences and revenue and was the foundation for the establishment of Major League Soccer, which is now, after some years of going backwards, experiencing explosive growth.

I firmly believe the MLS can be one of the top four leagues in the world and think FIFA's overriding objective should be in ensuring it gives the high-flying, expansion-geared MLS a chance to become a European-standard league outside of Europe.

It is also an opportunity, of course, for FIFA to make some serious money. Whatever impact USA 94 had on the American economy and FIFA's coffers would be doubled by a World Cup in 2022.

Yet commentators down under such as Awaritefe think Australia's geographical situation in Asia (if not cultural identification - the plain truth is most Australians still don't regard themselves as Asian) will see it trump the States.

"Australia's location means that in terms of time zone, a World Cup down under would provide the opportunity to reach countries with a combined population of over two billion people in South-East Asia and East Asia, some of which are economic powerhouses and key economic trading partners such as China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Indonesia.

"USA does not offer anything like Asia in terms of market growth potential and more importantly the passion for football."

Passion for football? I would argue there is passion for gambling on football, not football per se. And it's an argument that undermines itself because, as far as we know, the Chinese are angling behind the scenes to make a bid for 2026 - despite the grumblings of the Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam.

All the reasons Awaritefe gives for having a World Cup in Australia to capitalise on the Asian market would be magnified many times over were a World Cup held in China. Then why give it to Australia now? All the more reason to give it to the States in 2022 and take the World Cup to Asia in 2026.

But the biggest mistake pro-Australia 2022 commentators are making is talking down just what America has achieved since the last World Cup.

They want to raise USA 94 as an example of why the World Cup shouldn't return to the States yet any examination of the facts will tell you USA 94 was a runaway success. Incredibly Awaritefe says USA 94 "did nothing for football in USA and the growth of the game".

How? The 1994 World Cup inspired a generation of kids to want to play, including Landon Donovan. It pushed the American national team to achieve the sort of success we saw at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa. And, most of all, without the World Cup there wouldn't be an MLS.

After starting in 1996 with ten teams and going through a difficult period of adjustment, revision and consolidation it has now expanded to 16 teams. Two more teams, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, are joining in 2011 with Montreal Impact coming in for 2012 and possibly a reloaded New York Cosmos as a 20th franchise in 2013.

Average attendances eclipse the NBA and NHL. One franchise, Seattle Sounders, has crowds that comfortably put it in the top 40 most-supported clubs in the world. It's a remarkable achievement by MLS commissioner Don Garber that deserves plaudits and recognition from FIFA.

The Australian A-League, meanwhile, is imploding.

The 11-team competition was supposed to expand to 12 next season but this week Football Federation Australia announced the mooted Sydney Rovers franchise was dead in the water (having failed to raise sufficient capital) and has said it cannot guarantee the survival of North Queensland Fury beyond the current season while also forbidding the club from buying new players or re-signing existing ones.

The A-League is most likely going to go back to ten teams in 2011 and there is a palpable mood of anger in Townsville, home of the Fury, that the team is only being propped up to help the World Cup bid.

A front-page story in the Townsville Bulletin this week was apoplectic about the town's treatment by Australia's peak football body, suggesting FFA chief executive Ben Buckley was "plotting the North Queensland A-League franchise's demise" and the club had "been kept on life support only until a World Cup host decision for 2022 is made on December 2 in the hope of proving to FIFA that Australia has a strong national competition".

This well appears to be the case.

So when judged against the claims of the Americans, who have a league rocketing in the right direction, the Aussies fall well short.

The MLS of course has a decade's march on the A-League and the Australians would dearly love their own USA 94-style fillip. Buckley said in Zurich this week that "hosting the World Cup in 2022 will be like putting a turbo charger on the growth of the game and leaving a very significant footprint for the game".

Maybe so. But the most significant footprints are being made already - in the United States. Australia's journey to becoming a football nation has only just begun and there are many detours and dead ends ahead. America has already arrived at its destination.

If the "good of the game" is really FIFA's priority, a second World Cup in America should be a fait accompli.

Previous articles from Jesse Fink:
* A-League needs a New York State of Mind
* Players will be players - on the field and off
* Iran looks to be the power in Asia
* Juventus and Liverpool heading in opposite directions
* Reputation has no price
* Kick Serbia out of UEFA