Dec 10, 2008

Sport - Football;Australian government backs 2018 World Cup bid

Australia's bid to host the 2018 World Cup received another major boost on Wednesday when the federal government pledged A$45.6 million (US$30 million) to the campaign.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the money would be distributed over the next three years as the government and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) try to bring the World Cup to Australia for the first time.

"Today's announcement sends a clear message to the football world that Australia is serious about hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup," Rudd said in a statement.

Australia faces stiff opposition to host the World Cup with Belgium and the Netherlands, who are preparing a joint bid, the United States, Mexico, England, Spain and China all expressing interest in staging the tournament.

The official bidding process begins next year with FIFA, the sport's world governing body, expected to announce the successful candidate by December 2010.

FFA Chairman Frank Lowy welcomed the government's support, saying Australia had a great chance of hosting the tournament.

"If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't ask the government to support us for a pipedream," Lowy said in a statement.

"This is not an impossible dream. It is very achievable.

"While I understand that there is a view emanating from Europe that it may well be the turn of Europe to be the hosts in 2018, the fact is football is a world game."

Australia's proposed bid has received strong support from the head of the Asian Football Confederation who believes the tournament should return to the region after its only previous appearance in 2002.

"Europe has unquestionably been the focus of football growth and development for much of the past 80 years, but the future of football is in the 'new world' -- that is, the developing and growing regions of the world such as Asia," Lowy said.

"Our focus is on 2018 because it is a powerful way to develop football in the Asian region and Australia has the capacity to host a major sporting event in this timeframe."

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