The results of FIFA's voting on the World Cup bids submitted by candidates for both 2018 and 2022 is ongoing as I write and should be announced shortly. The World Cup finals are the most watched event in the world, surpassing Olympic opening ceremonies and receiving as much as 90 percent viewership from populations with participating nations--an astronomical figure by any measure.
This is the first time that FIFA will be voting on two consecutive World Cups simultaneously.
I am not too keen on the idea, it takes the excitement out of things when you know who will be hosting a tournament a full twelve years in advance. But given the increasing demands and rewards of hosting the world's greatest show, it may just well take that long to make adequate preparations.
This is a hint at who FIFA may end up choosing--nations with developing infrastructures.
And yet, the front-runners for the two bids are England and the U.S. respectively. The drawback is that both have hosted tournaments before. The incentive is that both have hosted successful tournaments before. They certainly have the infrastructure and potential to deliver top-notch tournaments.
But FIFA is interested in making the sport truly global and rightly so. After having hosted its first tournament ever in Africa, FIFA may be looking to further expand its global reach.
For 2018, that would mean Russia, a behemoth of a country with plenty of history and culture that has never hosted any major sporting tournament of this caliber before (although that just may be the problem). Russia lacks the infrastructure but has promised to make up for it and believes it has ample time to do so.
England on the other hand not only has the infrastructure but is also hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics which should further fine tune its preparedness. Besides, there is no underestimating the football fervor in England, home of the world's most watched league and its oldest football federation.
Spain and Portugal are outsiders given FIFA's declared disinterest in joint bids.
The 2022 bid is even more exciting.
The U.S. leads the pack. The U.S. hosted in 1994. Soccer was expected to get a huge surge in the U.S. after that tournament and while it did help boost the sport's popularity, the results were disappointing. Another finals hosted by the U.S. may seem anticlimactic to many football fans around the world (it is unfathomable to them that most Americans are unaware of their country's bid today). Nevertheless, the U.S. is willing and certainly able.
Australia hosted the best ever Olympics in Sydney and certainly packs the goods necessary for hosting a great World Cup. The prospects of a new continent, a historical first, must entice FIFA.
But history-at-play is also the case for Qatar, the tiny Gulf state that packs mighty ambitions. Its infrastructural plans for stadiums seem futuristic. The historical impact of having a World Cup in the Middle East will not be lost on FIFA, although China is likely to vote against Qatar to increase its own chances of being the Asian host in 2026.
A joint Netherlands/Belgium bid wraps up the roster.
Bidding countries have descended on Zurich to make the final push with the help of their star studded galas (Beckham and Prince William for England, Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman for the US, Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue for Australia, Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola for Qatar). Presentations are currently wrapping up with the final results to be announced in the next couple of hours.
England and the US may be expected -- but though FIFA's initial reports show strong reservations about their bids, Russia and Qatar would make FIFA a truly global brand.
Update: A perfect prediction! CBS Sports hire me now :)