"Because we have nothing, we will do everything." The historic phrase of Chilean leader Carlos Dittborn Pinto, with which he managed to convince FIFA to organize the 1962 World Cup in his country, is now too far away. Today, the Zurich-based football governing body is only after business on the largest possible scale, and not only was it not interested in 2030, the 100th anniversary of the first tournament in Uruguay, but it was also not interested in awarding it to the trio of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco.
South America had submitted a bid to FIFA to host the 2030 World Cup, consisting of Uruguay (the host of the first World Cup in 1930), Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile, which had the expectation of winning a tournament that was last played on the continent in Brazil in 2014. The president of Conmebol (South American Confederation), Paraguay's Alejandro Dominguez, who faces several corruption-related legal problems, had argued that the World Cup should return "to the same point where it all began.
But this South American quadripartite candidacy, on the road to the final decision on the 2030 host city, which was to be taken at the Extraordinary FIFA Congress at the end of 2024 with the vote of the 211 member federations, encountered two oppositions: that of the Iberian alliance between Spain and Portugal, and another, based on countries from three continents, made up of Saudi Arabia (Asia), Egypt (Africa), and Greece (Europe).
In the middle of the journey and in the three candidates' search for votes through negotiations, and given the South American advantage historically, Spain and Portugal first added Ukraine, to which they gave an initial group (out of the twelve total) as an organizer in order to obtain votes worldwide based on the sympathy generated by a country considered largely a victim of Russia in a war that is still being waged.
Soon after, however, they had to back down. The president of the Ukrainian federation, Andriy Pavelko, was implicated in a corruption case, and little more was known about his country's involvement in the project. He was replaced by Morocco, which meant the addition of an African country (which could fight Egypt's bid to vote, along with Saudi Arabia and Greece) and, at the same time, an alliance between two continents, with a radius of just a few kilometers, ideal for visitors who would not have to go to a lot of trouble to travel.
Morocco, on the other hand, had already been a bidder in the past and had lost out to other candidates.
However, the trio of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco had another unexpected setback when, after the final of the recent Women's World Cup in Australia in August, the president of the Spanish federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed a fellow countrywoman, Jenni Hermoso, on the mouth during the podium celebrations for the title. His reaction went viral, and although he resisted, he eventually resigned.
The surprise, then, was enormous when, just two months later, and when nothing indicated it, the president of CONMEBOL, Domínguez, went viral on social networks with a dance step as a celebration in Asunción, the city where he lives, which seemed to anticipate something very important for the South American candidacy, although he did not advance the news. Just minutes later, on its official website, FIFA announced that its Council (a bureau made up of several leaders) had anticipated the decision of the Extraordinary Congress in 2024, that is, more than a year before the vote, and had established that the 2030 World Cup will be played in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, but that Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay will have the possibility of hosting the first three matches of different groups (which was misinterpreted and "sold" by Domínguez as "three inaugural matches") and that they would be the only ones to be played on their territory, and all the rest, until the final, in Europe and Africa.
What was the reason for FIFA's haste when this was to be voted on 14 months later? The decision by the bids of Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Egypt to withdraw from the race made Conmebol understand that it had little room for negotiation, admitting something it never made public, which is that their countries are not in a position to organize a World Cup because they lack the necessary infrastructure, and so FIFA ended up making them content with one match per group, to be played by the home team, in each of the three venues, which in turn was celebrated as if the entire World Cup were to be played there.
Why did Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Egypt withdraw their bids? The explanation can be found in another decision taken by the FIFA Council, which was to speed up the hosting process for the 2034 World Cup by giving priority to countries in Asia or Oceania. This was read as a clear negotiation with Saudi Arabia to free up the 2030 World Cup in order to have the next one at hand when it already organizes club World Cups and even Spanish Super Cups and other international tournaments.
Another interesting question would be why this columnist mentions Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay as venues for a first three-group match but nothing about Chile, which was the fourth country to join the South American bid. The president of the Chilean National Professional Football Association (ANFP), Pablo Milad, commented that he received a call from Domínguez and the presidents of the other three federations that were ex-partners in the project, who informed him that FIFA wanted three countries in South America to host the World Cup, as Spain, Portugal, and Morocco are the three countries that will be in charge of the World Cup. There was no room for a fourth.
What Milad said is that it was explained to him in that call that FIFA had decided that it would be Uruguay (for hosting the first World Cup in 1930), Argentina (for being the current world champion), and Paraguay (for being the host country of Conmebol), but in any case, it is an explanation that does not close. If Paraguay has the merit of being the home country of CONMEBOL, then by that criterion, Switzerland should go to all the World Cups because it is the home country of FIFA and UEFA. Milad agreed to travel to Zurich in the next few days to ask for more details.
What FIFA did not explain is that the fact that the Chilean ANFP has claimed until the last minute and in all sports courts that the Ecuadorian national team should be excluded from the Qatar 2022 World Cup because of the alleged wrongful inclusion of the player Byron Castillo—claiming that he has a false passport because he was born in Colombia—to take his place generated a scandal that, if it had succeeded, would have turned the organization of the tournament upside down and that its leaders do not forget all that tension.
Finally, the other question is why Spain, when the president of its federation, Luis Rubiales, has just left after the famous kiss to a player of his national team. And here, the answer lies in geopolitics. Infantino is a close friend of the Spanish leadership, sporting and political, and it was no coincidence that in the midst of negotiations with socialist president Pedro Sánchez for the investiture for another term (which, moreover, if he fails, elections will have to be called again), he met with him personally to then make the shocking final decision.
But not everything stays where it is. Relations in football are very dynamic, and what is one thing today may be another tomorrow. Spain will not only have its World Cup but also want the final and the opening match, so those three "first matches" on South American soil will not be, as they tried to sell, "three opening matches," but only three first matches isolated from all the rest, and then those six teams will move to Europe to play the rest of the tournament.
However, South American officials are not giving up. They hope to be able to influence FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the coming months, between barbecues and fine wines, so that at least each of the three South American hosts will host the full group stages in their countries and not just one match, as everything decided must be endorsed at the 2024 Congress, which has already lost a lot of momentum.
Finally, the grandiloquence of FIFA, which has been taking the 16-team World Cup from Argentina 1978 to 48 (three times as many), which will be held in 2026 in another tournament with three countries and huge extensions, such as the one in Mexico, the United States, and Canada, Infantino has not yet been able to implement the World Cup every two years (among others, torpedoed by South America, which is paying dearly for it because it will not be able to host one until 2038, when it will be 24 years without a World Cup), but he does have his 24-team Club World Cup, which will begin to be played in 2024, and in China, another of the countries that now has the door open to organize the 2034 World Cup.
Business is business.