It was hardly the result Australia’s football fraternity wanted to hear.
Qatar. A nation boasting a population of barely 1.5 million people awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup ahead of a powerful United States bid and of course, our own.
So after crashing out in the opening round of voting with just one vote from the 22 strong FIFA Executive Committee panel, what went wrong?
The real question for Chairman Frank Lowy and Football Federation Australia perhaps is “what went right?”.
It was clear from the outset that Australia was facing insurmountable challenges to be selected to stage the world’s biggest sporting spectacle. Both from rival sporting codes and within the corridors of FIFA.
Then there was the damning report commissioned by the sport’s governing body just days before the historic announcement which ranked Australia last overall in projected revenues for the tournament.
But perhaps if there was one element which really showed our naivety to the world, that we’re not quite ready yet, it was our bid presentation video.
Riddled with celebrities and clichés, from Paul Hogan to Kangaroos, it said nothing of our desire to grow the game. That we have a culture of football. That we wish to embrace the code and would love nothing more than to host FIFA’s quadrennial event.
SBS colleague and Chief Football Analyst, Craig Foster described it best in the aftermath of this morning’s announcement.
“I think we got a lot of things wrong. To throw out an animated Kangaroo and do a tourism ad was just way, way, way off the mark”, said Foster.
‘If I’m an Ex. Co. member and sat there and watched that (I would be saying) ‘these guys don’t understand football. They don’t understand yet. They don’t respect it yet. And I don’t think we did”.
That the Asian Football Confederation was going to throw its weight behind Qatar’s World Cup bid was evident as far back as 2008.
On assignment in the middle-east with the Socceroos during their Asian Cup qualification campaign, the head of the United Arab Emirates FA, Mohammad Khalfan Al Rumaithi, intimated as much.
“We would like to see Qatar host the World Cup. They are not ready yet, but they will be”, I recall him saying. As incredulous as that statement seemed at the time from a nation lacking in infrastructure and criticised for its oppressive heat during the World Cup’s June/July period, two years later, those words have become a reality.
Much has been said about FIFA’s secret ballot. That there should be more transparency and few would certainly argue given the level of corruption unearthed over the past few months, most notably by The Sunday Times.
There is certainly a belief England paid the price for their press unearthing the scandal with FIFA’s executive committee overlooking their 2018 bid in favour of Russia.
Certainly FIFA’s ethics chief, Claudio Sulser’s indignant retort seemed to suggest so, when he had a veiled dig at the press in the aftermath of the incident which saw two Executive Committee Members stood down.
“But human nature prefers to talk about evil things. But the fair-play prize, what do you think? How many journalists would get the fair-play prize?” said Sulser.
At the end of the day, the fact the World Cup will be expanded to new frontiers when Russia and Qatar host the event for the first time is a positive sign. How the 22 Executive Committee members came to their decision, is anything but.
That’s the thing about the dirty business of dreams. The process to achieve the prize isn’t always what it seems.
As the country’s number one participation sport, Australian football will pick itself up and move ahead. While FIFA’s World Cup hosting rotational policy will ensure it will be decades before Australia has another chance to host the event, it will happen.
I still believe in the words of former Socceroo and SBS Football analyst Johnny Warren.
“I told you so”.