CAIRO: While all eyes are on South Africa as it prepares to host the World Cup, some are left wondering whether Egypt was ready to successfully organize the world’s most high profile football tournament.
According to sports critic Hassan El Mistikawy, in order for Egypt to successfully host the World Cup, “We would need high technology facilities and stadiums, well-equipped media centers, and five-star hotels in different cities, not just in Cairo.
“We would also need to be prepared to offer high quality medical services and be able to control traffic jams to ensure the teams arrive to the stadiums on time.”
In 2004, Egypt earned 0 votes after submitting its bid for hosting the 2010 tournament, while Morocco and South Africa, its two competitors, claimed 10 and 14 votes respectively. The bidding process remains underway for hosting the World Cup tournaments of 2018 and 2022. Brazil has already claimed the 2014 tournament.
“We thought that because we are pioneers of African football that we could be the African host of the World Cup,” said Alaa Abdel-Ghani, senior editor and sports critic for Al-Ahram Weekly, “but there is a big difference between playing and hosting.”
“We lost big time, not a single vote from the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee,” said Abdel-Ghani. “FIFA does not have a rotational policy anymore. The earliest we can bid would be 2026, but I don’t think we should.”
FIFA’s 2010 World Cup report about Egypt, composed by an inspection team in 2004, cited “huge” public enthusiasm, a “strong” football standard, and “excellent” hotel infrastructure in its statements.
On the downside, the summary report states that Egypt’s football and training facilities are in need of improvements.
“South Africa lost to Germany by 1 vote in its 2006 bid for the World Cup,” Abdel-Ghani said, “If you’re going to lose to Germany, who are known to be good organizers, by just 1 vote, then you must be very good organizers.”
“South Africa has hosted world champions before such as in rugby and cricket,” he added.
In September 2009, Egypt hosted FIFA’s 2009 U-20 World Cup in 5 cities; Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Suez and Ismailia. According to Abdel-Ghani, Egypt successfully hosted the tournament.
Earlier this year, President Joseph Blatter of FIFA posited that Egypt could “easily host the World Cup,” in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.
Abdel-Ghani, however, added that, “There is a difference between hosting the U-20 tournament or the African Cup of Nations and hosting the World Cup. The World Cup would require a lot more work and a lot more advanced facilities.”
“Egypt has organizational problems,” said Abdel-Ghani. “We are not a very organized country, and we are not a very organized people. Organization is really not in our blood.”
El-Mistikawy agreed that hosting the World Cup is a much more challenging undertaking than was the U-20 tournament. “There are far bigger economic, political and social factors that come into play in the World Cup. It is different than any other game, as is the case with the Olympics,” he said.
“We’re talking about at least half a million visitors to Egypt all at once,” he added.
El-Mistikawy stressed the importance of investing in the resources that make Egypt unique should it bid in the future. “We have so many beautiful places, from Sharm El-Sheikh and the Red Sea to Luxor and Aswan. By being well-prepared to offer the required facilities and by utilizing all our resources we should be able to put the judges in awe.”
He also highlighted the importance of nationwide efforts. “We should not depend on a few individuals to do the work, but should instead implement nationwide policies that put a well-studied system in place. We know who will host the World Cup in the coming rounds up until 2022. Any chances for Egypt would come later. We would need to start by setting long-term goals and involving everyone in achieving them.”
El-Mistikawy, however, does not think Egypt’s chances are going to be high in the near future and stressed on the need to be realistic.
“Countries that host the World Cup have the financial ability to do so. Egypt has other priorities when it comes to where it should put its money, such as health and education.”
According to Abdel-Ghani, “We really have to learn a lot to learn from our loss. I don’t think the lessons have been learned.”