KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Political and football leaders in South America have signalled the continent’s determination to win host rights to the centenary World Cup in 2030, almost certainly in the face of testing opposition from China.
Horacio Cartes, state President of Paraguay, and South American confederation leader Alejandro Dominguez kicked off together what is so far an unofficial campaign via Twitter.
Cartes said: “I can confirm that we, the Presidents of Paraguay, Argentina [Mauricio Macri] and Uruguay [Tabare Vazquez] have agreed to fight for the nomination of 2030 football World Cup.”
Dominguez echoed: “First World Cup was played in South America in 1930. Our vision at CONMEBOL is [to bring] Mundial 2030 to the continent where it was born.”
Those inaugural finals were staged in Uruguay in 1930 with 13 nations and no need for a qualifying tournament.
The finals will have expanded from the current 32 teams to 48 from 2026 onwards, placing them far beyond the logistical reach of the small nation on the north bank of the River Plate.
Until the 48-team expansion was decided by world federation FIFA earlier this year Uruguay had hoped to raise a joint bid with Argentina, their opponents in the first final 87 years ago.
However FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s preference for 48 teams made it inevitable that a third partner would be needed.
The Chilean federation, west of Argentina, had expressed an interest in cohosting but that has clearly been dismissed by Dominguez who is not only head of CONMEBOL but a Paraguayan citizen.
Paraguay is centrally placed in South America, bordering both Argentina and 2014 host Brazil and comparatively close to the northern fringe of Uruguay.
It had been the intention of Presidents Vazquez and Macri to issue a formal joint statement of intent on Thursday. However this was postponed, reportedly at the request of Infantino who wanted to present at the formal bid ‘unveiling’ later this year.
Hence the informal statements issued in Asuncion by Cartes,. Dominguez and Paraguayan federation president Robert Harrison. Argentina would provide six venues with three each in Paraguay and Uruguay. The Uruguayan stadia would include the historic Estadio Centenario which hosted the 1930 final and has changed comparatively little since then.
The CONMEBOL trio will face several challenges, apart from the suitability of venues.
Firstly, they must overcome the shadow of scandal which engulfed South American football – its federations, senior officials and marketing companies – after the revelations of the FIFAGate scandal.
Given that a CONCACAF trio comprising the United States, Mexico and Canada is odds-on favourite to win 2026 despite the region’s own involvement in the scandal, this may not prove too much of a problem.
More challenging will be persuading FIFA’s 200-plus members to turn down what promises to be a financially-significant bid from the Chinese whose Wanda, Hisense and Vivo corporations have already been welcomed by FIFA as World Cup partners and/or sponsors.
Further, South America will need to build significant voting alliances to carry the day in FIFA Congress because CONMEBOL has only 10 members. Asia will be duty-bound to support China so everything will depend on Afrcia and Europe, with more than half of the congress votes between them.
A host of former Latin American football bosses – including Dominguez’s three predecessors as CONMEBOL presidents – have been indicted by the United States Justice Department on corruption charges.
The Paraguayan cause may be harmed by the continuing manner in which the country’s legal system has thwarted US DoJ attempts to extradite Nicolas Leoz, a central figure in the FIFAGate scandal.
All three South American nations are likely to face noisy internal opposition from critics who will believe – as did many in Brazil ahead of the 2014 finals – that the essential multi-million investment could be better directed at social welfare.
Jose Luis Chilavert, Paraguay’s high-profile former goalkeeper-captain, was quick to voice his disapproval.
He responded to Cartes and Dominguez, also on Twitter, by saying: “Paraguay does not need a World Cup but hospital, schools, infrastructure.”