THE recent proposal by US Soccer Federation head Sunil Gulati that the football federations of Canada, USA and Mexico (Cusam) co-host the football World Cup in 2026 is a move in the right direction and could herald more continental and regional World Cups in the future. It would also mean an increase in the number of finalists in future world cups as well as help cope with spiralling costs.
It has come to light that both the World Cup and the Olympics are becoming too expensive and bankrupting the host nations as well as triggering political and economic problems. Some of the enthusiastic prospective bidders are known to make a quick U-turn when the reality of the expenses are known, and some governments and city corporations back down considering that even the initial outlay for preparing for the bid by consultants will cost tens of millions of dollars. Many of them feel that the socio-economics of hosting out-weighs the transitory ‘feel good’ effect it brings. Even sponsorships in the World Cup are drying out as the Russian organisers of the 2018 World Cup are finding out, after the FIFA corruption scandals last year.
Only a few countries have shown hosting to be commercially viable and profitable. The period between winning the bid and hosting is eight to 10 years away. What was once an economically sound country could have taken a plunge in the intervening years placing the host nation in jeopardy and saddled with a negative image. This happened to Brazil when it hosted both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. One can attribute this to the vagaries - the ups and downs and the boom and bust - of the global economy. For countries with enough stadiums and adequate sports infrastructure the preparation period can be shortened. So too for countries opting to co-host as expenditure and venues are reduced.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has expanded the number of finalists in the World Cup to 40 from the present 32. Countries from Europe, Latin America and Africa should have more chances as some top soccer nations from these continents were left out in the finals because of intense competition. There should be no worry about any dilution in the quality of the World Cup.
The Under-17 World Cup to be held in India in October will enable India to become an active soccer nation. There is a need for FIFA to upgrade the standard of soccer in the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia, and generally in Asia, through regional and inter-regional championships. Both China and India have great potential, when one considers how much the US progressed over the last 30 years to become one of the top soccer nations today.
It is hoped that like his predecessor Sepp Blatter, Gianni Infantino will also give emphasis to the Women’s World Cup and also provide more allocations to upgrade soccer standards and infrastructure in poorer countries. Changes and reforms on and off the field are necessary as soccer is a fast evolving sport embracing 211 countries in FIFA.
For example the penalty shoot-out was replaced with the golden goal, but this also was found to be too harsh and heart-breaking for the losing team and its supporters. This led FIFA to re-instate the penalty shoot-out in football tournaments for draws. However, as seen from recent World Cups and other major tournaments even the penalty shoot can be a tough proposition when both teams are evenly matched in every aspect.
In this regard adopting the hockey penalty shoot-out (known as the penalty shuffle) will be much fairer to both the goalkeeper and player as both have an even chance, unlike the penalty shoot out where the odds are heavily stacked against the goalkeeper who, it appears, is being punished for not letting in the goals earlier and ending the match without going to penalties!