2022 World Cup decision: Japan's quest
Soccerphile speaks exclusively to JFA Chief Junji Ogura
Few expect either Japan or South Korea to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, it is true.
Despite excellent bids, the fact both nations staged the tournament as recently as eight years ago appears to be their biggest enemy, despite the fact that equally shows they are safe pairs of hands.
Up against the pulling power of the USA, the virgin soccer territory of Australia and the wow factor of the Qatari bid, not to mention South Korea's noble aim of uniting their peninsula, an arguably vainglorious wish in the light of this week's military exchange, Japan has had to come up with a good reason to host another World Cup twenty years after their last one.
Their proposal hinges on that Japanese emblem - technology, but the ideas are genuinely exciting, involving a smart card for match tickets, transport tickets and money, and setting 3-D viewing zones up all over the world free of charge. Japan's world-famous tech firms are on board including Sony, JVC and Panasonic, and the innovations, still in the developmental stage, would constitute a new, fourth revenue stream for FIFA after ticket sales, sponsorship and TV rights. The aim is for FIFA to embrace and control the technology, rather than letting others do it for them.
Soccerphile sat down with bid leader, Japan Football Association Chairman and FIFA Executive Committee member Junji Oguru to discuss his nation's audacious World Cup bid for 2022:
Soccerphile: Why should Japan host the World Cup again?
Junji Ogura: We enjoyed the 2002 World Cup so much and it was very successful. Not only every Japanese person enjoyed it but people from all over the world loved our hospitality. I remember how people from Kyushu took to Cameroon and how some of them traveled to South Africa to cheer them again! So, after such a happy experience in 2002, we said right after the tournament we should do it again.
Japan has the stadia but it is still a developing country with football so we can become a true football nation. Then there is the legacy. Technology is one of our best tools. We have discussed with Sony and other companies how to develop new technologies. That is why we are very confident.
Has football grown in Japan since 2002?
Yes, we now have a J-League 2, a second division, and the interest in football in general has increased with more players and fans. We have 38 professional clubs. We are the premier football nation in Asia.
Japan is using technology as the centre of its bid but isn't technology universal?
There are what, nine other bidding countries, but I could not find they are proposing anything to do with technology. We have the companies here and it comes directly from Japan - we are proposing things for the future - 3D vision without glasses in a few years for instance, which will be very popular in a few years. We can develop these ourselves in Japan with a serious programme.
The JFA originally planned to host the Cup again before 2050
And win it too, hahaha!
So if you don't win 2022, you will be trying again as soon as possible?
Oh yes, that is right, we are committed and ready.
Who do you think are your major rivals this time?
Every bidder is very strong. The USA has its major stadia, Australia can say they have never had the World Cup in Oceania. Qatar can say the same about West Asia.
What was your reaction to China's announcement it was aiming for 2026?
Oooh, China. I have friends in the Chinese Football Association and they did not say anything to the Asian Confederation about that. Some of the AFC members were angry. It was bad for the AFC's image.
Surely China was always going to bid sooner or later?
Yes, China is a big country with a big possibility of hosting the World Cup. China claim they never said they would not, but we need unity amongst the Asian members.
Oguru is a jolly and animated man, exploding some Western stereotypes about the inscrutable Asians. His eyes light up as he speaks with real enthusiasm about his country's bid. He is a man who truly loves football, and broke into a childish laugh when I brought up his love of West Ham United and Bobby Moore.
At the mention of China's announcement that it wishes to bid for 2026, a darker look came over him, a look of fear and of having been let down by a close friend. FIFA rules forbid consecutive hostings by one confederation, and it is felt China's lure will influence some Ex.Co. members to skip the Asian bidders for 2022 as a result.
The feeling remains that Japan will not host 2022, but their bid was brave, innovative and valid, and more proof that the country takes soccer seriously and is becoming a major player on and off the field of world soccer. Japan, football and technology will be together for years to come.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
photos by Iman Simon - firstname.lastname@example.org
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