Making sense of the World Cup bid races

[ZURICH COUNTDOWN] The races for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups are utterly complex with political forces conspiring to make the outcomes of both impossible to predict. Six, maybe seven, of the nine contenders have a legitimate shot of winning the right to host one of the two World Cups up for grabs. A few numbers are key, though, to explaining the dynamics at play in the two races, in particular the USA's chances in the 2022 race ...

22 or 23. That's the number of FIFA executive committee members who will vote on Thursday. As of Sunday night, no one was sure of the exact number. That's a little like no one knowing how many states will vote in a U.S. presidential with only four days to go. The bid process is that wacky.

The issue: Oceania -- always at the heart of World Cup bid craziness -- wants to replace its suspended president, Tahitian Reynald Temarii, as its representative on the executive committee with its vice president and acting president, David Chung, from Papua New Guinea -- tied for, well, last in the FIFA rankings at No. 203.

No one seemed to know exactly if Oceania's executive committee -- as opposed to its full membership -- has the power to replace Temarii on the FIFA executive committee, and no one is exactly sure who Chung would vote for, but no one has ever mentioned the USA as a possibility, so it cannot be good news that Chung was headed to Zurich, and Australian bid officials were signaling that Chung was going to be able to vote. (The Australians believe Chung would likely vote for them in the 2022 race.)

The significance of 23 vs. 22 members? Chung would turn a final-round vote of 11-11 into 12-11 -- and FIFA President Sepp Blatter would therefore lose his power to cast the tiebreaking vote in case of a 11-11 tie.

If Blatter gave Chung the blessing to vote, it could only signal that Chung would vote the way the FIFA president would cast the tiebreaking vote in both the 2018 and 2022 races.

Hard to believe, though, that Blatter would let someone else potentially decide the two hosts, given the fact that the vote is by secret ballot and we know the history of Oceania voters.

In 2000, Charlie Dempsey (who died in 2008) abstained, instead of voting for South Africa, as instructed by Oceania, and threw the 2006 World Cup to Germany instead of South Africa by a vote of 12-11. (Blatter would have broken a 12-12 tie by voting for South Africa.)

3rd round. The voting works like this: FIFA executive committee members vote, and the bidder with the fewest votes is thrown out after each round until a round produces a winner with a simple majority -- a bidder with 12 or more votes (see above for tiebreaker in case of 11-11 tie).

With four bidders for 2018 -- England, Netherlands/Belgium, Russia and Spain-Portugal -- and five bidders for 2022 -- USA, Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea -- the voting will go a maximum of three rounds for 2018 and four rounds for 2022.

The third round of the 2018 race could be key for the USA's 2022 chances for these reasons:

The USA needs for its Concacaf supporters (Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer) to help swing the balance in favor of the 2018 winner in the final round, therefore holding the winner and its bloc beholden to the Concacaf choice -- the USA -- in 2022. (Other '22 bidders, though, could try to concoct strategies -- ie. hold out votes -- to try to make their own support significant in the final outcome.)

This is why it's so important to keep the third Concacaf member, Guatemalan soccer federation president Rafael Salguero, in tow for both races -- ie. vote the Concacaf party line. In the 2018 race, Salguero is rumored to be supporting Spain -- and in the 2022 race he said he was uncommitted but U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati is confident of getting his vote.

Three Concacaf swing votes would carry more weight than two in the 2018 third round. Indeed, three Concacaf votes turned a projected 13-11 Morocco victory into a 14-10 South Africa win in the 2004 race for the 2010 World Cup.

8 votes. That's the number of votes the USA needs in the third round to be sure of advancing and have any chance of winning a four-round fight.

Some observers believe the USA could beat Qatar in the final round but might lose to Australia or South Korea in a final-round scrap. Likewise, Qatar might stand a better chance against Australia or South Korea, meaning for one reason or another it might be in the interest of all three 2022 opponents -- Japan is given no chance of winning -- to conspire to knock out the USA before the fourth and final round of voting at the Messe Zurich on Thursday.

What makes things tricky is that no one knows if the USA has more than even six votes in the first round. Getting the extra two in the next two rounds to survive will be the challenge.

2nd choice. Finally -- and we'll keep this one brief -- the key to everything isn't who's an executive committee member's first choice, but who is his -- yes, they are all male -- second choice.

Early maneuvering will first knock out those bidders who members want to eliminate, and then the victor will be carried over the top in the final round by those members who have switched to their second choice.

Members could use their second choices both early and late in the voting:
 -- voting for a second choice to undercut an opponent in an early round -- and then switching to their first choice later in the game; or
-- more straightforward: voting for their second choice after their first is eliminated and deciding the race.

The feeling is that the USA has the least entrenched support in a 2022 race dominated by fierce Asian political issues, so its best hope is to pick up second-choice votes as the Asian blocs fall by the wayside.

3 comments about "Making sense of the World Cup bid races".
  1. Gus Keri, November 29, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

    What a mess. All of them, not only two, should be fired.

  2. John Hofmann, November 29, 2010 at 6:47 p.m.

    I wonder if any of the so-called leaders of the soccer world pay any attention at all to any factors that promise financial and global promotion of the game, as opposed to narrow regional partisanship?

  3. Kenneth Barr, November 29, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.

    Given that the grand boo-bahs of FIFA are no more honest than those of the IOC, I'll just go the the Red Bulls viewing party on Thursday with absolutely no expectations whatsoever.

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