There is a secret war happening in this country, and getting the World Cup would be a major coup for the good guys.
With just a week before the final vote, it is worth thinking about what it would mean for the game if we somehow defied the odds and did the unthinkable – brought the World Cup to Australia.
Women’s football is already the fastest growing sport in Australia, with female participants already taking up a substantial proportion of the pushing-two-million players.
Those numbers are very gratifying but they have additional significance for football code administrators. They represent a major front of the secret war – the battle for hearts, minds and athletes among the various football codes (and other major sports).
We all remember the sneaky tactics the AFL employed to cruel our pitch for the men’s bid back in 2009/10. They went out of their way to ensure the FIFA Technical Committee would give us a black mark in terms of Australians being united behind the bid and actually held secret meetings of “influencers” to encourage them to do all they could to mobilise opposition.
“If Australia gets the World Cup in 2022,” said a famous AFL/TV personality, “our game will die! We must do all we can to stop it!”
I doubt he truly believed that, but he would certainly have known that having the World Cup here would have done wonders for football. It would have been a massive game-changer in terms of interest, leading to all the other usual indicators such newspaper column inches, TV ratings, match attendance and of course, ongoing participation – crucially of the best athletes with an eye on taking part.
It is that battle for athletes where the secret war is hottest. Getting the best athletes guarantees the quality of the competition – and the quality of the competition (at the professional level) drives interest.
We didn’t get the World Cup so the game went into a holding pattern, from which it is still struggling to emerge.
But if there has been one bright light over the last ten years, it’s been the Matildas. A high quality and successful team that has inspired a generation of girls to play football. (The W-League also has been quality and very watchable.)
Indeed, so successful was their impact that the AFL moved heaven and earth to bring forward their own competition by several years when they realised how badly they were being left behind. And no doubt it finally occurred to them – this isn’t just about women players. Women players eventually become mothers with a major role to play in deciding the sports to be played by their children – girls and boys.
I, for one, would be amazed if we really do get the World Cup next week. We scored highest in the technical report, but so what? The technical report back in 2010 suggested that Qatar be disqualified – that they could not hold the World Cup because (among other reasons) the temperature was dangerously high at the relevant time.
So how much does the technical report mean? And why even do it if the voting members take no notice of its recommendations?
Our new FFA CEO, James Johnson, himself a former FIFA apparatchik, tells us that FIFA has changed and that we are a genuine chance – on merit.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but if we do get it, what will that mean for the usual dirty politics of the secret war?
Maybe not that much. The tournament is only three years away so won’t have the generation inspiring impact beforehand that 12 years would have done for the men’s game. But the legacy could be enormous.
There is no doubt that we are excellent when it comes to staging major events. We have the infrastructure, the accommodation, the stable society and the gorgeous / diverse countryside to attract masses of tourists. We are also a sports-mad country with a large multi-cultural community. We would have no trouble filling stadia.
On top of that – we would be one of the favourites to win it. Any team in the FIFA top ten is a realistic chance of winning the World Cup and history shows that hosts grow an extra leg. We’d definitely be a show.
That would guarantee very strong domestic interest in the tournament and generate positive memories for decades. It would also, as a by-product, confirm in any objective FIFA minds (if there are such things) that we would be a safe pair of hands for the men’s World Cup.
The other codes are right to be nervous (although our history of being able to make a pig’s breakfast of any opportunity probably gives them reason to care less).
Still, a successful World Cup would guarantee at least the soaring participation of women in football for a generation and that is a great thing in any case.
My god! Imagine if we actually won it!
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His new novel, Welcome to Ord City, will be out shortly.