(WFI) Harry Been, CEO of the Holland-Belgium World Cup bid, explains why the two countries are bidding, the benefits of the Euro 2000 experience, plans for new stadiums and the role of Johan Cruyff and Denis Bergkamp in the campaign.
It’s the latest in WFI’s series of interviews with the 10 bids in the race for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Australia, England, Indonesia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, Russia, Spain/ Portugal and the U.S. are also bidding.
World Football Insider: Why is the time right for Holland-Belgium to stage the World Cup, what does the bid concept offer FIFA and the global football movement?
Harry Been: We have shown the world by organizing Euro 2000 that we can do it. Of the bidders we have the most recent history of experience in organizing a big tournament. And not only that, we have done it together… so we’ve shown that two countries can do it together. It’s one of the basic things we want to stress is that these big tournaments can not only be organized by the bigger countries. FIFA has got 208 members and 200 out of these cannot do it themselves, they must do it together with another partner. If they will not allow us to do so in 2018, it will be gone for a long time I’m sure. I think it’s in FIFA’s interests, it’s in the interests of the big majority of countries that the world will see that a joint bid can be successful.
WFI: How was your meeting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter in July?
HB: He said he actually didn’t prefer joint bids, I think in Paraguay. Then he explained to us that he said that ‘my intention is to tell the bigger countries if they can organize it themselves they shouldn’t make it more complex [the organization] by taking another smaller country on board’. He also mentioned that we are two of the seven founders of FIFA with two royal families. He has been received by the Belgian king already and will be received next year, surely, by the royal house of Holland. That is one of the things that for Blatter counts.
WFI: What are the bid’s unique selling points over its rivals?
HB: We are a joint bid which I think is a strong point. Our main selling point is that we are a very compact bid. In Holland and Belgium you can take your hotel in one place and stay for the whole tournament there. You can reach every venue within two or three hours; there is no other bid who can say that. We’ve got our experience and have shown also to the world there is a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of people, especially in FIFA in Switzerland, will remember Holland playing in Basle and in Berne with 15,000 Dutchmen in the stadium but 150,000 in the city and around, all orange. This is what football means in our countries. I think we deserve to get the tournament.
WFI: What is the budget for the bid?
HB: It’s something between 10 and 15 million Euros [$15-22 million]. We have a lot of corporate support [five partners] I have not heard of any other bidder that has so much corporate support.
WFI: With four or five new stadiums to build in Belgium and the biggest, an 85,000 new stadium in Rotterdam, are you confident these venues will gain planning approval and be built on time?
HB: Rotterdam I would say is 100 per cent. They need it for Feyenoord football club. They can have a huge capacity. It will be fantastic, a landmark stadium. It’s the Opera House of Sydney in Rotterdam. Things are going to happen; I have never heard of anything in Rotterdam which they planned but which they didn’t make. In Amsterdam, they have big plans to extend their stadium [Ajax’s Amsterdan Arena]. Also I like the 1928 Olympic stadium, which will be extended to about 44,000. Brussels could have a big stadium [65,000-70,000]. Capacity of stadiums is not a worry. We’ve got 14 stadiums now; we have
two or three in the waiting line. But we don’t need more than 12, we have more than enough.
WFI: Is the huge investment in stadium projects a concern in the current economic climate?
HB: We tell all the clubs always ‘only do it if it’s good for yourselves. Never build a stadium only for us. Maybe only extend it temporarily’. That is one of the advantages; it [the stadium legacy] means something for Holland and Belgium. England can organize it tomorrow, so it doesn’t mean so much.
WFI: How is the Holland-Belgium leadership planning to promote the bid on the global stage in the next 13 months?
HB: For a big part, it’s secret how we do it. But we focus it on three levels. We try to convince these people [FIFA Executive Committee members] individually, try to speak to them, go to them. We bring our famous football players with us, our Johan Cruyffs and Ruud Gullits. We try to convince the social circle around the members… via media and TV. Thirdly, we try to convince the country where they live. We think if they want to vote for us they must be able to explain it back home. That’s what we did in Egypt. When I was there for the U-20 World Cup in September, I visited the top clubs, an educational center, the football association, I went on talk shows
just to let them know we are there and that we have got a good case.
WFI: Do you think being a joint bid is your biggest challenge?
HB: We think it’s an opportunity but to start with that’s a challenge because people think it makes it more complex with two governments, two systems maybe two languages. Japan/Korea [2002 World Cup] was a complex tournament with a lot of costs, so [people think] ‘why should we do it again’. That is a challenge, to convince people that it’s even an advantage to do it in two countries, that it’s a good thing. It’s always a challenge to get the stadiums right in time because it’s a huge investment to do that. Basically, stadiums of this size are too big for most of the clubs in the world.
WFI: How would a Holland-Belgium World Cup improve on South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014?
HB: We are smaller; transport is not an item here. We have organizational experience, don’t forget that. They haven’t done it in South Africa or Brazil. We’ve shown the world that we can do it. Euro 2000 is the example. The model we have got is still used by UEFA for all the tournaments they have.
WFI: Will Denis Bergkamp and other footballers be adding some star power to the bid in the coming months?
HB: All these kind of players… with Denis Bergkamp as an example, Marco van Basten might be able to help us. I think Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf. Some of them have time problems, if they are a coach or trainer. Also our current players like Arjen Robben, Ruud Van Nistelrooy… they must tell the story [of the bid].
WFI: How important are the bid’s five corporate partners [BAM, construction and property development; ING, banking services; PricewaterhouseCoopers, professional services; KLM, airline; Randstad, recruitment services]?
HB: It’s incredible the amount of money they’ve paid and shows they have some kind of confidence that we have a good bid because they are market leaders in Holland and Belgium. They are the big ones. KLM doesn’t do it [football sponsorship] normally. I told them the story and said ‘you should show yourself as market leader and should want to be connected to ambition, especially these days when things are bad with the recession… you should show the world that you support Holland and Belgium and having a good time’. We have only one more, that’s it. It has to do with exclusivity; six is the ideal. We get another one in the coming month.
WFI: What are the next milestones for the bid?
HB: On Dec. 15 we have to have all the material from the [candidate] cities. We go to Soccerex [football convention in South Africa Nov. 28 to Dec. 2], and the World Cup draw… we play an All-Stars match with a team from Holland and Belgium and one from Africa. The bid book for May 14 is the big work… and lobbying all the time. The next event for me is Dubai for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
by Mark Bisson
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