Australia’s richest man, Frank Lowy, is lobbying to convince soccer’s governing body that his adopted homeland deserves the 2022 World Cup, and says he thinks the bid will regain a vote when a suspended voter is replaced.
Australia lost its only guaranteed supporter when Reynald Temarii, the head of the Oceania Football Confederation, an umbrella body that Australia belonged to before switching to play under Asia’s governing body in 2006, was suspended on Nov. 17 following FIFA’s investigation into a vote-selling claim.
Lowy said there was a possibility Oceania will get its vote back in time for the ballot. That requires Temarii to waive his right to appeal the suspension, and FIFA hasn’t received any notification from the official. A majority vote is required to award the bid, and if that isn’t immediately attained, the lowest-scoring bids are eliminated in further voting rounds.
“We have communication with him and I’m reasonably satisfied that will happen,” Lowy said. “One extra vote among 22 is a big difference in the campaign.”
Lowy, 80, chairman of Westfield Group, the world’s largest owner of shopping centers, is head of Australia’s soccer federation and has been leading efforts to woo the men who’ll vote in Dec. 2’s secret ballot. First-time bidder Australia is up against Qatar, the U.S., Japan and Korea in a contest that has come under the spotlight following the suspension of two voters after newspaper allegations of bribery and unconfirmed claims of collusion among bidding nations.
England’s chief executive officer, Andy Anson, yesterday said it was “inevitable” some bidders for the two tournaments would try and trade votes. Lowy said the process, which started two years ago, is “very complicated.”
“There are very few rules,” he said. “It can be interpreted in too many different ways. Those that want to talk to others believe they can; those who don’t want to believe they shouldn’t so it’s not that black and white.”
All of Australia’s rivals have a representative among the 22 remaining voters and the U.S. can count on three votes from its regional governing body. That gives the Americans an advantage, Lowy said.
Still, both bids are trailing Qatar, according to U.K. bookmaker William Hill which makes the Gulf state its 9-4 favorite ahead of Australia at 3-1, the U.S. 9-2, Japan 33-1 and South Korea 40-1.
Lowy says convincing soccer’s governing body to choose Australia as Cup host would be a “big, big thank you” for providing the sanctuary that allowed him to amass his fortune. His net worth is listed at $5.04 billion by Australia’s Business Review Weekly.
Lowy arrived in Australia with little money and no job 58 years ago. Born in the Czech Republic, the businessman lost his father in the Holocaust and moved to Hungary and Israel before traveling to the other side of the world.
“I found Australia very warm, very acknowledging, very accepting -- I know personally what it is,” said Lowy, in an interview in Zurich, where FIFA’s executive members decide in two days the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. “Australia’s been very good for me and I’ll be able to feel I’ve done something great for Australia.”
Australia has pledged to spend $2.29 billion on stadiums and a further $535 million on hosting the tournament and a warmup event a year earlier. Lowy said FIFA has a ‘moral’ duty to take the World Cup to his country because it’s the only continent not to have hosted an event that, like Lowy, would be 92 in 2022.
FIFA, a not-for-profit organization, which makes the majority of its income from the quadrennial tournament, said taking the World Cup to the southern hemisphere country risked “a reduction in TV income and, as a result, commercial revenue from Europe and the Americas. The income from Asia/Oceania would need to be increased substantially to offset the likelihood of loss of revenue in Europe.”
A report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP on behalf of Australia’s bid said Asia’s gross domestic product, or GDP, will double between 2005 and 2014.
“The growth between now and 2022 is huge,” Lowy said. “The world is changing rapidly and substantially and with great momentum the economic power of the world will be in our region.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said earlier this month he wasn’t sure how much the executive body will rely on the technical analysis of the best bids. Marios Lefkaritis, a voter from Cyprus, said “football politics” would have a big impact on where his vote goes.
One of the most powerful supporters may turn out to be Blatter, Lowy said.
“He’s the president and I really can’t speak for him but I know his sympathies and many other people’s. They like Australia,” he said.