Australia is rather a unique country in many ways. It is a country that thinks of itself as a western country but is so far geographically removed from other nations that would also consider themselves so (with the exception of New Zealand). We are surrounded by Asian nations whose cultures and customs seem weird and strange to the uninitiated. As a result when Australians do eventually venture overseas they are often shocked that these places are so vastly different to our own in terms of food, customs, languages and culture (a strange ideology in Australia). Australians can often be perceived in two ways by our overseas brethren; either as the lovable larakins who are good for a laugh, easy-going and a bit of fun. Or as arrogant, loud, dumb and naive people.
What has all this to do with the World Cup bid? Well the actual process of the bid and presentation of it, in many ways represents the latter perception of Australians. You only have to watch the absolutely ridiculous video that Football Federation of Australia (FFA) presented to FIFA as part of its World Cup presentation bid to see what I’m talking about. The six-minute video features a Blinky Bill style animated kangaroo who has stolen the World Cup trophy and proceeds to hop around various iconic land marks of Australia whilst now and then passing by some Aussie celebrity who has nothing to do with football (Ian Thrope and Cathy Freeman to name but a few). It is actually four minutes into the video when you even first see a football. At this point it shows a group of kids in the outback playing in the shadow of Ayers Rock (sorry Uluru) and for a second your hope is restored that the video might be back on track. Only for that hope to be instantly dashed as the children jump around the kangaroo hoisting aloft the trophy as the background morphs into a football ground with your stereotypical Australian football fans cheering in the back ground as they wave their FFA approved supporter gear. At the final moment a rider in black (who has chased the kangaroo throughout the video under instructions from Prime Minister Julia Gillard to retrieve the trophy) comes forward to confront our marsupial friend. Who could this mysterious rider possibly be? A footballing legend perhaps? Our captain Lucas Neill, maybe Socceroo superstar Harry Kewell or even Weetbix poster boy Tim Cahill? The helmet is removed to reveal the star of the 1986 comedy smash ‘Crocodile Dundee’ Mr Paul Hogan himself. The trophy is returned and all is right with the world. Julia Gillard sits at her desk giving a smile as if to say ‘How could you possibly not give us the hosting rights now?’ She reads a few nice words off a placard and asks FIFA to grant the wishes of a football loving nation the dream of hosting the World Cup. How could a video like that possibly fail?
Now I am not suggesting that if this travesty of a video had been produced better and actually reflected the football loving passion of this nation that we would have won the World Cup. Far from it. The video itself is purely a ceremonial process, a symbolic gesture that really has little baring on the decision-making of the FIFA executive comity. Yet this video represents how far off the mark Australia was in its bidding process. It showed a naivety and an arrogance that was not displayed by its hosting rivals. Naive in the sense that the FFA treated this more as a tourism campaign instead of displaying any sort of footballing heritage. Arrogant in the way that they thought that FIFA should somehow be impressed by celebrity endorsements and ‘stunning’ landscapes. An in-depth look into the FFA’s failed bid is best explored here by this Four Corners report complied by Quentin McDermott in September 2011. You only have to watch the video presented by winning nation Qatar to see what was really expected. Qatar got it. In their video they presented an argument that football is a game that unites people. In an extremely hostile and volatile area such as the middle east this can only be a good thing. It is that idea that inspired me to give this blog the name that it has. One particular heart pulling moment in the video presents the scenario of the Israeli football side playing the Qatari national side and the two sets of fans supporting their respected sides in a united celebration of sport and friendship. That somehow seems far more on point than a kangaroo hopping past the Opera bar.
Even the videos presented by other bidding nations are far more impressive than Australia’s. The USA’s video had Morgan Freeman narrating which, that in itself, should be enough to win you the vote. South Korea’s business style video runs through the list of reasons why it would be the right choice. From its advanced technology in regards to communication and television coverage to its vastly impressive transport network. An impressive video indeed. It even boosts 14 up to date stadiums that are ready to go. But this will prove to be a hindrance rather than a plus (If you need to build new stadiums for the World Cup it presents more opportunity for FIFA to line its pockets from rivaling building corporations).
Now to suggest that Qatar won the bid purely on this sentimental video would be naive. There is an incredible amount of behind close door deals that go on in order to win the hosting rights. Favours are asked, gifts are exchanged, grand visions are promised and money is ‘donated’ to win votes. The fact that Australia only won one vote in the first stage of voting would probably suggest our gifts and donations were seriously behind those offered by others. But this is not a story to try to discredit others but rather a recount of why the bid was even made and how a bid that started with the best of intentions, descended into a travesty that would cost the tax payer approx $46m. It would now appear money that could have been used more wisely when even one of the hired European consultants for the bid team eventually reveals that Australia never really stood a chance of winning.
To be continued….