Keir Radnedge

World Cup 2030

World Soccer - - CONTENTS - Keir RADNEDGE

So much for the Na­tions League, and the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship is yet to start again. But what about the fu­ture of the World Cup?

Firstly, ev­ery­thing is set­tled for 2022, with no more talk of tak­ing it away from Qatar. That sort of an­tag­o­nis­tic chat­ter was al­ways hot air, any­way. Once FIFA had signed the con­tract the host­ing was set.

The only de­bate now sur­rounds whether there will be 32 or 48 teams, with a for­mal de­ci­sion to be taken by FIFA Coun­cil in March, ahead of the draw for the qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino says he is keep­ing an open mind as that is what he knows Africa, Asia, CON­CA­CAF and CON­MEBOL want to hear. But Qatar has long since en­vis­aged cut­ting its host­ing cloth to eight sta­dia, while ac­com­mo­da­tion con­cerns are al­ready be­ing raised.

Sim­i­larly, 2026 is all set­tled. The USA, thanks to a de­ci­sive vote in FIFA Congress in Mos­cow in June, will be the core host, with the sup­port of Canada and Mex­ico. While crit­ics still moan about dis­tances, re­mem­ber that this is a tour­na­ment that spread it­self across the vast space of Brazil in 2010 and western Rus­sia in 2018.

The sports-bid­ding in­dus­try has been asleep ever since the 2026 de­ci­sion, and on the Olympic side ever since last year when the IOC had lit­tle op­tion but to hand 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los An­ge­les. As for the Win­ter Olympics, fewer and fewer cities are be­ing al­lowed by their own tax­pay­ers to shoul­der the cost.

But foot­ball is a dif­fer­ent story. A host of smaller na­tions want to share in the FIFA largesse be­stowed from host­ing the ju­nior tour­na­ments. As a re­sult, prospec­tive bid­ders are al­ready gath­er­ing for the 2030 World Cup and be­yond.

Nat­u­rally, the ro­man­tic vi­sion would be to take the cen­te­nary tour­na­ment back to its launch pad, in Uruguay, where the na­tion marked its own 100th an­niver­sary in 1930 by wel­com­ing the world – even if FIFA pres­i­dent Jules Rimet had to lean on his own French fed­er­a­tion to join three other Euro­pean FAs in the pi­o­neer­ing At­lantic sea cross­ing.

A na­tion of 68,000 square miles and 3.4mil­lion peo­ple, Uruguay can­not stage a re­peat on its own. Thir­teen teams played in 1930, but in 2030 it will be 48 – if not more. Hence the

first act has been the prepa­ra­tion of a co-host­ing bid with neigh­bours Paraguay to the north west and Ar­gentina to the south and west.

The Uruguayans be­lieve they have a strong case and CON­MEBOL will sup­port them. And while that only means 10 votes, they be­lieve that in­creas­ingly strong ties with CON­CA­CAF will bring in more sup­port from the Caribbean and Cen­tral & North Amer­ica.

Mo­rocco, five times a loser when it comes to host­ing, has evinced a will to bid again – maybe with Al­ge­ria and Tu­nisia, maybe with Por­tu­gal and Spain across the Straits of Gi­bral­tar. How­ever, the first op­tion looks ques­tion­able and UEFA would take a dim view of the sec­ond. As UEFA pres­i­dent Alek­sander Ce­ferin says, up­dat­ing the 2010 of­fi­cial song: “It’s time for Europe.”

Unof­fi­cially, al­beit still at an early stage, UEFA would look favourably on a co-host bid from the four Bri­tish home na­tions plus the Repub­lic of Ire­land. That is al­ready five votes within the Euro­pean fed­er­a­tion it­self.

Such a bid can tell its own his­toric tale, given Eng­land’s role as the 19th-cen­tury cra­dle of the modern game. FA chair­man Greg Clarke has flown busily around the con­ti­nent since his elec­tion in suc­ces­sion to Greg Dyke in 2016 to im­prove sport­ing and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions and re­la­tion­ships.

That is likely to stand him in good stead when he con­tests UEFA’s slot for a Bri­tish FIFA vice-pres­i­dent. Suc­cess for Clarke would be con­sid­ered a pos­i­tive step down the road to­wards Eng­land’s place as core part­ner of a five-way co­host­ing in 2030.

A sur­prise was a state­ment of co-host bid­ding in­tent from Bul­garia, Greece, Ro­ma­nia and Ser­bia. But the real Balkan tar­get here is build­ing mo­men­tum and cred­i­bil­ity to­wards pur­suit of the fi­nals of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in 2028.

In the mean­time, what are the prospects for Uruguay for 2030?

The Uruguayans have just staged the Un­der-17 Women’s World Cup and car­ried it off with aplomb – ev­i­dence once more of the boast by old coach Ondino Viera that “other coun­tries have their his­tory, Uruguay has its foot­ball”.

For the Uruguayans their great­est pride is also their great­est prob­lem: the Es­ta­dio Cen­te­nario.

At the re­cent cham­pi­onship de­cider, in which Pe­narol se­cured their 50th Primera Di­vi­sion crown by beat­ing old

Cla­sico ri­vals Na­cional 2-1 af­ter ex­tra time, the at­mos­phere gen­er­ated by the two sets of sup­port­ers with their in­ces­sant drum­ming, chant­ing and singing was mag­nif­i­cent.

But the Cen­te­nario was orig­i­nally thrown to­gether in only eight months. It is now 88 years old and looks it. The walls are dec­o­rated with pho­to­graphs of the old he­roes, but the pic­tures are black-and-white and from an­other era. The foot­ball world has long since trans­formed and up­graded into ul­tra-high def­i­ni­tion colour.

Walk­ing into the Cen­te­nario is like walk­ing back in time. It re­mains rooted in its own his­tory as the pro­tected na­tional mon­u­ment it has been des­ig­nated. It is breath­tak­ing – but as a venue for the 2030 World Cup Fi­nal it’s im­pos­si­ble.

For the Un­der-17 Women’s World Cup, the Uruguayans used the up­graded lit­tle Es­ta­dio Char­rua rugby ground in Mon­te­v­ideo and min­i­mal­ist venues in Colo­nia del Sacra­mento to the west and Mal­don­ado to the east. They served a pur­pose for this event but that is all.

If the Uruguayans are se­ri­ous about stag­ing the World Cup Fi­nal in 2030 they must find, from some­where, the funds to build one ma­jor new sta­dium and at least one more to match Pe­narol’s new 40,000-ca­pac­ity Es­ta­dio Cam­peón del Siglo. The Cen­te­nario might stage some sort of pre-fi­nals gala but that is all.

If Uruguay re­ally wants the World Cup it must come to terms with its his­tory... and move on. And sig­nal that in­ten­tion very fast.

“Other coun­tries have their his­tory, Uruguay has its foot­ball” For­mer na­tional coach Ondino Viera

Out­dated...the Es­ta­dio Cen­te­nario

Hosts...Uruguay (in blue) take on Ghana in the Un­der-17 Women’s World Cup

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