The 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts will be awarded by FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland on Dec. 2 and theoretically, some of the most important information on the bids and who might win the right to host the World Cup was released today. From July 19 to Sept. 17, the six-man FIFA Inspection Team visited the countries of each bid and took meticulous note of everything related to the bid. Today, the detailed inspection reports compiled on every bid was released with average to good results for all but Qatar.
Bidding for the 2018 World Cup is an entirely European affair with England the big name in the group. England's report came back largely as expected with FIFA describing everything in their bid as "low risk," except for stadium operations, ground transport and accommodations, all of which the report made clear could easily be cleaned up and aren't major threats to a well-hosted World Cup. The report came back exactly as most expected it to and as has been the case since they announced their intention to bid on the event over three years ago, it is not England's ability to competently host a World Cup that is the issue with the infrastructure, stadiums and support for the sport in place, but whether they can play the political game with some tact.
The Netherlands and Belgium bid received mixed reviews with four areas of concern that received a rating of "medium risk," but they also scored exceptionally high in the other five categories and were deemed "low risk." Stadiums and accommodations raised red flags from the inspection committee with seven stadiums having to receive some sort of construction, there not being the required space surrounding the stadiums that FIFA requires and having only guaranteed 28,000 rooms, well short of FIFA's required 60,000. The air and ground travel all scored well, as did the International Broadcast Center plans, but most required contracts and guarantees fell short, scoring "medium risk." The longest shot among the 2018 bids, the Netherlands and Belgium probably needed a great report to get in the mix and while solid, their report wasn't great.
Of all the European bids, only Russia received a score of "high risk" in any category as the inspection committee made clear that their air transportation fell short of what was required even with proposed improvements and temporary facilities. For a country the size of Russia, air transport is vital and scoring "high risk" in the category will put a dent in their bid, as will the "medium risk" grades they got for several operational categories because it is all dependent on extensive building. Holding the bid up is their near perfect score in all contractual obligations and guarantees, a strong show of support from the government entities needed. Technically, Russia's bid is still lacking, but it's the only untapped market in the running for 2018 and can grab the Cup with a strong final presentation on Dec. 1.
The one bid that has slid under the radar, but may be the dark horse is the joint-bid from Spain and Portugal. The Iberians are contractually sound with all government, host city, stadium and training site completely checked off. Operationally, the Iberian bid is nearly perfect as well. All transportation, from ground to air is "low risk," as are accommodations. Team facilities, which are training facilities for the most part, received a "medium risk" grade because of insufficient information and the only real obstacle seems to be in stadium operations, which was graded "medium risk." Nonetheless, Spain and Portugal received the best scores of any bid and while the drama between "favorites" England and Russia plays out, the Iberians have slid in to a good position to snag the event.
As for 2022, the United States was scored about as was expected with the bid's two known small issues noted, but an otherwise sterling report. Even for mega-events like the World Cup and Olympics, the federal government does not make contractual guarantees the way other countries' do and as a result, the bid was marked as a "medium risk" in the legal department, with an acknowledgment that all cities have signed the necessary documents and that lack of federal support hasn't stopped the country from hosting mega-events before. In addition, the grade on ground transport was "medium risk," but the report mentioned the extensive air transport in the country that mitigated some of the ground transport concerns. Besides that, the U.S. scored "low risk" in every category with glowing reports for the stadiums, accommodations, everything else associated with the bid. From a technical standpoint, the U.S. stands out from the rest of the countries bidding for 2022, but that was always going to be the case. Winning the political game and convincing voters that 28 years is not too soon to host a second World Cup.
On the flip side of the U.S. is Qatar, whose bid is on shaky ground after a damaging report from the inspection committee. From a contractually standpoint, Qatar did well and was described as "low risk," but the operational aspect of the report called into question whether the country is capable of hosting the World Cup. Most damaging was the "high risk" grade the bid got in team facilities, not just for one issue, but three issues in the category. The bid had issues with most of the facilities needing to be built, teams getting only one practice pitch and the biggest one, a complete dependency on untested technology. Countering temperatures than can reach 120 degrees has been a challenge and the bid id dependent on new technology to cool stadiums and event areas, but it is untested and the report questioned it and the lack of a back-up plan. Of the nine operational categories, Qatar received just one "low risk" grade with seven "medium risk" grades to go along with the "high risk" grade. Qatar's bid has long been questioned and the inspection report does this again, something that could knock Qatar out for good, but the bid was running on political momentum and goodwill since the beginning, something that can continue even if the odds are longer now.
Japan and South Korea have been thrown in the same boat for much of the bidding process despite bidding separately because they joint-hosted the 2002 event, but Japan has the technical edge according to the inspection team. The Japanese bid got a near perfect operational grade with the only concern being whether they would be able to provide the necessary amount of space surrounding the stadium. Meanwhile, South Korea had the same concern raised, as well as insufficient training facilities and an accommodation grade that raises issues with 70% of the hotels contracted being two or three stars. The Koreans have one edge with complete government support, while the Japanese government has a verbal agreement to take care of what's necessary, but not all of the contracts signed. Both bids are working from behind because they hosted so recently and the best bet for either country to host might be South Korea's ability to pull some heartstrings with a promise to bring the Korean peninsula together.
Hanging around and sometimes overlooked, but possibly the favorite at this point in time to host is Australia. A perfect contractual report is a boost for the Aussies, as are their "low risk" reports on their stadium plans and sporting support. The training facilities were also given the go-ahead and no concerns were raised with the air transport. Ground transportation received a "medium risk" grade, but largely due to the size of the country. On the whole, the report didn't drool over many aspects of the bid, but it may be the most faultless report of any of the 2022 bids. With a technically sound bid confirmed by the report and a country that hasn't hosted a World Cup before, Australia is coming on strong in the final month.
For all the talk about the inspection reports, it's tough to judge just how influential they are. Theoretically, they should be massively important because how competently a country can host the world's biggest sporting event should be of the utmost importance, but in reality, there are other things in play. Obviously, politics plays a part in all of this and who owes whom a favor, but that's common in all business. Some may say FIFA is corrupt and some say they're practical, but the fact is that there is more at play than technical competency. Goodwill and the growth of the sport play a role, as does the ability to make significant change somewhere. How many of the 22 executive committee members set to vote on the right to host will even read all of the reports and how many will just skim them or toss them out? It's impossible to say, but with under two weeks to go until the votes, the inspection report has thrown another variable into the pot.