Qatar heroes have Aussies singing the blues

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For Australia, it wasn’t so much the loss but the manner of the defeat.

With expectations high that the biggest sporting event in the world might finally come Down Under, Australia’s attempt to host the 2022 World Cup was blown out of the water as the ‘Come Play’ bid was eliminated in the first round with just a single vote to its name.

It was a shocking wake-up call for all those involved in the game and highlighted just how far Australia still have to go to mix it with the big boys on the world stage.

Once over the initial shock of losing to a country which has already admitted it’s too hot to play a football tournament there in summer – the 2011 Asian Cup has been moved from July to January to avoid the scorching summer heat – so the post-mortem began.

Of course, the football-haters in the Aussie media decided to concentrate on asking how the Aussie team could have wasted $45 million of taxpayers' money on a bid which garnered one solitary vote.

The Daily Telegraph said the “humiliating failure of a lobbying campaign overseen by European consultants paid millions for their work is certain to spark claims that the money was destined to fund a doomed project”, managing to expertly weave into one sentence two of their favourite things – xenophobia and hatred of football.

The Australian called the campaign’s failure a "humiliation", with the single vote "an embarrassing harvest", while quoting Federal sports minister Mark Arbib as saying the amount invested “was money well spent”. Others have gone so far as to sound the death knell for the game in Australia, inaccurately stating a successful bid was the only way the domestic game could survive.

Bid and FFA chairman Frank Lowy was as baffled as anyone as to the poor showing at the FIFA polls. “I was working hard right to the end to lobby and I was not expecting this,” he said. “Maybe people told us one thing and did the other.” Welcome to FIFA, Mr Lowy.

While the Australian bid team can feel aggrieved at the voting process and the duplicitous nature of the FIFA Ex-Co, they aren’t the reasons for the Australian loss. In truth, the Aussie bid failed before a vote was cast, failing in three key areas: lack of political power within FIFA, the perceived lack of football heritage within the country and, most importantly, an Australian-hosted tournament’s inability to make FIFA enough money.

Politically, the ‘Come Play’ campaign was fighting an uphill battle from the start, with Australia not even able to count on the vote of the head of their confederation (AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam is Qatari). Events then took a turn for the worse when Oceania – Australia’s old confederation – lost its vote with the suspension of OFC chief Reynald Temarii in the wake of The Sunday Times corruption story.

And it seems not even a recent memorandum of understanding signed between Jamaica and FFA – giving the Caribbean nation access to $60m of Australian aid money – could compel CONCACAF President, Ex-Co member and all-round honest egg Jack Warner to vote for the green and gold; many believe Australia’s only vote came from old ally Franz Beckenbauer.

The way in which the Australian game is perceived by other nations was another factor that counted against the bid. To the crusty Ex-Co suits, Australia just doesn’t have the footballing gravitas of an England, Spain or Holland. Unfortunately, rather than fight that notion, the Australian bid played to those misconceptions by choosing to concentrate on the clichéd tourism/supermodel/other sporting heritage route, rather than, say, asking indigenous footballer Harry Williams or Everton’s Tim Cahill to talk about their inspiring football stories.

Craig Foster, the journeyman Australian midfielder who talks a better game than he ever played, hit the nail on the head when he tweeted post-announcement: “The truth is simple. If I was exco member, [I] would have said 2 things: Any nation that gives much of legacy to different code is not yet ready [and] A tourism ad does not demonstrate understanding of football values or culture - what about game here? Tell our football story.”

The final straw – and arguably the killer blow when you look at the countries who were granted the hosting rights – was the economic value to FIFA of an Australian-based tourmament. Australia came out rock bottom in a report assessing five key revenue streams – ticketing, TV and media rights, sponsorship, hospitality and merchandise/licensing – given a ranking of just 68 percent compared to the US, who scored 100 percent (swots).

Lowy’s claims that “the growth of Asia… in the next 10 years is unbelievably great in numbers of people, wealth creation [and] spendable dollars” may have rang hollow to members of the Ex-Co, especially when you consider the shopping centre magnate is choosing to open malls in London and not India.
None of the above failures are anything to be ashamed of and can all be addressed in future bids. As many have noted, it took Sydney three bids to secure the Olympic Games and they turned out to be “the best ever”.

Ultimately Australia fought a good, clean fight and learnt some valuable lessons moving forward. While Qatar’s hosting of 2022 means Australia cannot bid for a World Cup until 2030 – and the smart money is on an Argentina/Uruguay centennial tournament then – don’t count the Aussies out from putting in another bid when the time arrives. Let’s just hope Elle MacPherson has lost her looks by then.