World Cup Bid 2018: Japan
Many countries hoping to host a World Cup find themselves having to build new stadia in order to meet the strict FIFA standards. Japan, however, only need build an 80,000-seater stadium in which to hold the 2018 World Cup Final, and there are plans in place to do so. There is a problem, however - namely that the stadium will only be built if Tokyo wins its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. No Olympics presumably means no stadium, and no stadium could mean no World Cup for Japan in 2018.
Tokyo's new Olympic stadium will hold 100,000 if it's built, 25% more than FIFA's minimum requirements dictate, but it's a big 'if.' In a recent survey, only 56% of local people were in favour of the Olympics coming to the Japanese capital. It's a fact that won't have gone unnoticed by the IOC, and with many people unhappy at the amount of money needing to be spent on improving the motorways for the Olympic Games, nothing can be taken for granted.
Yet for all that, Japan have some undoubted plus points in their portfolio. They've got invaluable experience of hosting major competitions in the past including the 1964 Summer Olympics, the 1972 and 1998 Winter Olympics and, more relevantly, the 2002 World Cup which they organised in tandem with South Korea.
A benefit of their involvement with the latter is that Japan have ten modern stadia above the minimum capacity of 40,000 waiting to be used. Were it not for a shortfall of 10,000 seats, the Yokohama International Stadium (used for the 2002 World Cup Final) could be used at the start and end of the 2018 Finals too. The possibility of installing more seats where the running track is suggests an alternative is possible, but it'd be an expensive exercise which would take away the multi-use practicality of the stadium.
The co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup has left Japan in pretty good shape overall for hosting the competition again. The transport links are famously efficient and up-to-date, hotel facilities are superb and the state of football at all levels in the Land of the Rising Sun is arguably better than ever.
Furthermore, Japan's hunger to bring home the world's major sporting events is nothing short of admirable. Even the Rugby World Cup will be heading there in ten years time, but one can't help but feel that something akin to Japan Fatigue (or at the very least Asia Fatigue) will soon set in - if it hasn't already. It was only seven years ago that Japan co-hosted the World Cup Finals and just a year ago that the Olympics were held in China. With so many competitions heading out East, a tendency to kick back and give other parts of the world a chance must surely become a likelihood now.
And it's not like Japan need to cash in on the undoubted financial benefits that a World Cup would bring. While South Africa next year will feel the immeasurable boost to its neglected trade and tourism industries, Japan could arguably carry on regardless even without the world's football fans paying a visit.
That's why Japan's bid for the 2018 World Cup has to convey a real passion and determination to host the event. From government support to the humble fan, FIFA need to be convinced that Japan want the World Cup in nine years' time. They'll know that the Japanese can organise the competition with clinical efficiency and they'll know they have the infrastructure in place, but they'll need to see some genuine desire too.
It's perhaps no coincidence that the Japanese Football Association this week paid a visit to Sepp Blatter to remind him of their intentions for 2018 (or indeed 2022, if necessary). It shows the professionalism that's required of a candidate country and again Mr. Blatter will have been impressed by it, but will he have been inspired by the bid? Come to think of it, will anyone be? Only time will tell…
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