Netherlands, Belgium team for World Cup bid

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Netherlands, Belgium team for World Cup bid

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Michael van Praag

Two tiny countries are bidding to host the world’s biggest sporting event, and they’re banking on past experience and the close proximity of all their venues to bring the prize home.

A committee representing the Netherlands and Belgium for their joint bid on the 2018/22 World Cup is currently in Korea, hosting several promotional events under the banner of “Together for Great Goals.”

While they face stiff competition from the likes of England and the Spain/Portugal duo, Royal Netherlands Football Association president Michael van Praag and chief executive officer Henk Kessler think they can turn what some see as a weakness to their advantage.

“We are very compact. The average distance between stadiums is 179 kilometers [111 miles]. That means that wherever a team is situated, it can easily reach the stadium in maximum of two hours.

“And we believe that is a big advantage,” van Praag said in an interview at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul yesterday.

Another edge, he said, is that the countries showed they can do it when they hosted the 2000 Euro tournament.

Van Praag pointed out that the Union of European Football Associations and the International Federation of Association Football have 208 members, many from smaller countries.

“We believe that hosting a World Cup should not be a benefit only for the big countries,” he said.

South Africa will hold the World Cup this year, and Brazil is scheduled to play host in 2014.

The International Federation of Association Football, known as FIFA, the sport’s governing body, has excluded African and South American bids for the 2018/22 events.

Korea is bidding for the 2022 event.

FIFA and its 24-member executive committee will choose the winning bids in December of 2010.

FIFA has clear conditions which World Cup hosts must meet. One is a capacity requirement: at least 12 stadiums that seat at least 40,000, and a main venue with a minimum capacity of 80,000.

The biggest stadium in the Netherlands is Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, which can hold 51,577 people. King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels can seat up to 50,122.

But Kessler said new stadiums would be built in both Rotterdam and Brussels to meet the demand.

“We can also upgrade several of our stadiums to 44,000-capacity stadiums,” he said.

In addition to stadium capacity, safety is an issue for international events involving fans from all over the world.

“If you look at the competition, we are organized in such a way that all our stadiums have every safety certificate you can think of,” said Kessler.

“Every year the clubs and association spend 15 million euros [$20 million] to keep the security system up to date.”

In addition, he said, “Our Orange fans were recognized at the 1998 World Cup and 1996 UEFA Champions League for having the best behavior, and the government has already given us their guarantee for increased security for games involving popular teams like England and Germany.”

What’s most impressive about the Netherlands is that despite its relatively small size, it consistently ranks among the top five football teams in the world.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Dutch football program, which nurtures talent at the grassroots level for the overall success of its domestic professional league and national team’s success.

“Since we operate in a relatively small market, we don’t have the kind of money available in places like Italy, Germany and England, where every team can buy stars,” said van Praag.

“We must produce our own talent. That’s why we came up with this system of getting children involved in the sport from age of six. The Dutch football association takes care of educating coaches in a five-tier training system.

“It’s a matter of survival.”


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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