POSTED: April 15th 2009

World Cup next target for Japan

Junji Ogura: heading for 2010 with 2020 in mind / lake images
Junji Ogura: heading for 2010 with 2020 in mind / lake images

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

TOKYO: Tokyo is bidding to host the 2016 Olympics but that is not the only mainstream sports hosting project being targeted in Japan. The land of the rising sun also has its eye on bringing back the World Cup finals in 2018 or, more likely, 2022.

Japan hosted the finals in 2002 in tandem with South Korea. It was the first staging of the world's greatest single-sport event in Asia and the first to be shared between two countries. But co-hosting was a political expedient and not one to be repeated. Thus both Japan and Korea - along with fellow Asian confederation members Australia, Indonesia and Qatar - are now bidding officially to go it alone.

Junji Ogura, vice-president of the JFA and a member of FIFA's all-powerful executive committee, believes 2022 is a more realistic target than 2018 which he expects to be won by one of the four European candidates (England, Holland/Belgium, Portugal/Spain and Russia).

He told me: "Of course there is no formal decision but it seems to make sense that, after South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, the World Cup should go back to Europe in 2018. So then 2022 is the more favourable date for us in Japan to consider.

"We think we have a lot to offer. We are particularly keen to stress the ecological credentials that we can bring to World Cup hosting. Also, we already have 15 stadia which meet the necessary minimum of a 40,000 capacity.

“Then, we have a message of peace to bring to the World Cup and to that end, this time, we will certainly use Hiroshima as a venue. Asia is a troubled region with the issues of Iraq, Iran and so on. We think, we have a particular part to play as the only nation to have been the focus of an atomic bomb.”

Controversially and surprisingly, Hiroshima was omitted from the venue schedule in 2002 after losing out in domestic political infighting.

The main stadium for the new bid will be the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo - if Tokyo wins the 2016 bid when the International Olympic Committee decides in October - or an upgraded Yokohama International. The latter hosted the 2002 Final in which Brazil beat Germany 2-0.

Winning target

JFA directors decided after the finals in 2002, in which Japan progressed beyond the group stage for the first time, that they wanted to host the World Cup again - alone - and that they wanted a World Cup-winning team by 2050.

Japanese football itself is in a healthy enough state. The original single-division J.League has expanded into two divisions of 18 clubs apiece with another 10 at least eager to break into the league ranks. For reasons of both self-promotion and access to support grants all of the 47 prefectures are keen to have at least a J.League presence.

Also, as Ogura says, the 2002 hosting helped educate both Japanese business and society into the value and importance of opening up to the world.

One issue which remains to be decided is how the Asian confederation will want to address the issue of competing members bidding for a World Cup with the complicit risk of splitting votes and letting in another country from another region – more specifically Mexico or the United States.

Ogura said: “On this issue everything is very quiet at the moment. Everyone is preparing their bid and their paperwork. Early next year the confederation will have to consider this issue and then we’ll see.”

Clearly, next month’s bitterly-fought election for one of the four Asian seats on the FIFA executive could be a significant pointer.

Mohammed bin Hammam, the Qatari president of the AFC, is being challenged by Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who counts the JFA among his backers. Bin Hammam has promised to quit as AFC president if he is defeated.

Keywords · Japan · Tokyo · 2016 · Olympic Games · World Cup · 2018 · 2022 · FIFA · Ogura

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