Whether winning one or staging one, a World Cup is not easy to come by. Since only seven countries have ever won the World Cup – Egypt not among them – and since Egypt has qualified for the World Cup only twice, it is safe to assume we will never capture the most coveted trophy in the world s showpiece event in the sport.
So how about hosting the World Cup? We had two opportunities. We botched up one in glorious fashion and, just the other day, skipped the other altogether.
We all remember what happened the first time we bid for a World Cup in May 2004: the big fat zero we received is still all too fresh in our memory. In retrospect, we should never have tried. We lay shattered following one of the most disastrous defeats in the history of countries bidding to host a major sports event — if there is such a thing.
As in any competition, only the winner really matters; few remember or care who finished behind. But few Egyptians have forgotten the humiliation of this particular drubbing. In embarrassing unanimity, the 24-member FIFA committee which decided who would host and who would not was in absolute agreement that we simply were not good enough.
Because it was secret, we do not know who were the 14 FIFA people who voted for the eventual winner, South Africa, or the identities of the 10 who backed Morocco, which was the runner-up. What we do know for certain is that not a single FIFA voter deemed Egypt worthy enough of staging the World Cup.
It was a devastating end to what initially appeared a shoo-in win. At least that s what the media were smugly telling us. In the months leading up to the vote, public emotions had been whipped up so high that we sincerely believed we would win the vote and do so hands down. We were the pioneers of African football and, as such, we had a God-given right to win the bid.
We were so confident that we spent much precious time planning, not how to win the hearts and minds of the 24 FIFA voters, but where the traffic cones will be put for the celebratory parade we would throw after winning the bid.
We focused too much on our football history which, while some of it is indeed glorious, is indeed history. We couldn t acknowledge that our 5,000-year history, that we like to brag about every other day, helps us to know where we ve been, not where we re going.
Though it was never stated out loud, we had this unmistakable haughty look on our face that we could not be beaten by South Africa, a black country, for we were brainier and them inferior.
Then we lost; actually, we got pulverized. We got not one vote. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Sifr, the Arabic word for that little circle of nothingness, became part of our lexicon. Sifr became not just a number, but the meaning of futility.
The entire experience was so traumatic we did not want to go through it again, even though we oddly toyed with the idea. The Egypt Football Association (EFA) last month asked FIFA whether Egypt could bid for the 2022 World Cup (we wanted clarification after FIFA s new tournament rotation policy which prevents a nation from hosting the World Cup if either of the previous two tournaments were held on the same continent. So South American countries may not bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups because Brazil will host the 2014 tournament. Because South Africa is hosting the tournament in 2010, an African nation would only have been considered to host the 2022 event).
Not only did FIFA affirm that we could bid for 2022 but even put us on the list of potential candidates. The EFA s reply was: “No no no, we were only asking.
The EFA wasn t only asking; it must have been joking. If we couldn t beat South Africa, how were we expected to beat out the 11 opponents announced last week, many of whom have World Cup-hosting experience? Of the candidates, England (1966), Mexico (1970 and 1986), Spain (1982) and the US (1994) have previously hosted a World Cup. Japan jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea, who are both candidates for 2022.
When FIFA chooses the 2018 and 2022 winning countries in December 2010, we will not be among them. Any explanations needed?
Our reply to the EFA: Next time, don t ask.