Amid the furor over Qatar being awarded the World Cup in 2022, the decision to move the World Cup into previously-uncharted territory has been used as one of the justifications. In recent years, we've had Japan and South Korea, South Africa, and in 2018 the tournament will be held in Russia to boot. But there have been stranger places proposed in the past.
These are three World Cups that never happened: hosts that bid to host the tournament and lost the vote. Three roads not traveled that could've taken the tournament to some very interesting places indeed, both geographically and historically. Nazi World Cups and Communist World Cups could well have been a reality of the game. And that might sound like the distant past, but our first example isn't even four years old...
The Qatar Chronicles
With the World Cup due to be held in Africa in 2010, a few teams other than eventual winners South Africa had a go at bidding for the tournament. They were Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. A year after the World Cup, the group (bar Morocco) all saw their governments overthrown in the Arab Spring.
Such a massive overhaul was not exactly widely-predicted by the international community, so it's entirely reasonable that FIFA might've decided to host the 2010 World Cup in one of those countries. South Africa only won the rights to host by four votes, saving us from what might well have been a potentially history-altering World Cup.
To what extent, of course, we'll never know. It's highly unlikely that the tournament taking place there was going to make everybody put down their arms and decide that life was actually pretty good. The tournament might have even taken some of the blame for the ensuing violence, having an importance falsely attributed to it. But even a slight alteration of events could've taken history down a very different path.
Nonetheless, with FIFA looking in recent years to take the World Cup to uncharted territory, we still haven't had a World Cup in a majority-Muslim country. Unless they have the tournament taken from them, Qatar 2022 will be the first. The hotels might not quite be as cozy, but it would've been nice if that barrier was broken for a country that actually had a rich history and tradition of the sport.
Adolf Hitler was not much of a fan of football. The only game he was known to have attended was Germany's 2-0 defeat at the hands of Norway in the 1936 Olympics, and the rumours about him being a Schalke supporter are almost certainly just that. But as decisions to host the Olympics and going for the World Cup showed, he was quite a fan of the propaganda possibilities of sport. Just as those Olympics went down in legend, it's possible they could have been superseded by something even bigger in 1938, when Germany unsuccessfully bid for the tournament.
The Second World War didn't begin until 1939, but around the world, the athletes were well and truly warming up. Spain became the first ever team to be prevented from joining by the small matter of a civil war, while fighting had been raging for a long time in East Asia. It was a troubled world that took to the stage in 1938.
Anti-Fascist sentiment might also have had a more visible hero in Mathias Sindelar. Austria had a legendary team at the previous World Cup, but the Anschluss with Germany had caused their team to be absorbed by their neighbors along with everything else. Sindelar (the captain in 1934) had played in the final match of that Austrian side against Germany just after the Anschluss. He reportedly celebrated with gusto in the face of Nazi dignitaries. He had refused to join the unified side, and died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards. How things might have turned out with the pressure of a World Cup on German soil could've been fascinating.
Despite having a quality side in 1938, Germany actually went out in the first round to Switzerland. With the suggestions of match-fixing that plagued the previous World Cup held in Mussolini's Italy, it's not exactly beyond the realms of possibility that someone might have ensured Germany did better on home soil.
Instead of the potential history-changing nature of the 2010 World Cup if it had taken place in North Africa, this is one that would've almost certainly not changed history at all. The Berlin Wall fell months before the tournament would've been scheduled to take place, and the Iron Curtain fell before huge numbers of soccer fans could travel behind it.
Instead of reading history books on the downfall of Communism and hearing it blamed on economics, various American presidents, the Cold War arms race, and, er, jeans, imagine a world where everybody was thanking FIFA President Joao Havelange and the pressure of Western tourism for bringing down the Berlin Wall. The power of the World Cup would be attributed to that tournament that finally sealed the crack between East and West.
This kind of venue could have been a lot more interesting earlier, when Communism was doing a reasonable job of keeping up with the West and it looked like it might actually be a glimpse of the future. Not just in economics either, but in sport. After all, in Euro 1960, the three teams that finished top were Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. By the late '80s, things were looking a lot bleaker.
Of course, it would be a while before the USSR opened up enough to consider hosting a World Cup. And it's odd to think of such a bizarre tournament replacing Italia '90. Lost would be the classic BBC 'Nessun Dorma' intro. Instead, we'd have some sort of montage full of handsome, moustachioed men hammering things to Shostakovich. This was the USSR, after all, not Russia.
And imagining polyester crowds mingling across the divide would seem alien now. Just a few years ago in other games in Eastern Europe, Dundee United had to come out of their hotel to feed their own fans with bars of chocolate and bags of crisps due to the inability of their traveling support to find anything substantial to eat in the latter days of communism. What kind of cover-ups and imaginary shop-fronts would have been set up can only be left to the imagination. But at least we know that we'd never see that sort of thing here....