NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Hosting World Cup matches in 2030 would be “the dream of those who have survived the horrors of war,” Ukrainian Football Federation president Andriy Pavelko said Wednesday after his country launched a joint bid with Spain and Portugal amid the invasion. and occupation by Russia.
Leaders of the three football associations have gathered at UEFA headquarters to present a campaign which he hopes will connect people beyond the world of sport.
“It is the dream of millions of Ukrainian fans,” Pavelko said in translated comments at a press conference, “the dream of people who have survived the horrors of war or who are still in the occupied territories and over which the Ukrainian flag will surely fly soon.”
Pavelko said the project was supported by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He aims to bring the World Cup back to Europe 12 years after hosting Russia.
The expected Spain-Portugal bid, which has been in the works for more than three years, has already been named UEFA’s preferred candidate. Around 200 FIFA member countries will vote for the host in 2024.
“Now it’s no longer the Iberian bid, it’s the European bid,” Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales said at the launch. “Together we represent the transformative power football has in society.”
No details were given on how many 48-team World Cup matches would be played in Ukraine or in which cities. The 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium in Kyiv hosted the 2012 European Championship and 2018 Champions League finals.
The European bid faces a South American bid with co-hosts Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, which wants to mark the centenary of the organization of the first World Cup in 1930.
Saudi Arabia, which has forged close ties with FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, is preparing to anchor a bid that potentially includes Egypt and Greece.
It’s unclear how Greece would be approved by UEFA to be part of such an unprecedented multi-continental idea that aired last month and appears to have accelerated the revised European bid.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin had a front row seat during part of the launch, although he left before the end and no UEFA official officially participated or answered questions.
Rubiales, who like his Portuguese counterpart Fernando Gomes is UEFA vice-president, said football officials in Spain had recently held talks with the national government and the royal family as part of the process of working with Ukraine.
Pavelko said he believed from the early days of the war in February that football could help unite the world with Ukraine, which co-hosted Euro 2012 with neighboring Poland. This event only had 16 teams playing in four cities in each country, while the 2030 World Cup will feature 48 teams likely requiring around 15 venues.
Ukraine’s ambition increased when the domestic league which was suspended in February started a new season in August – in stadiums without fans or bunkers for players and officials to take shelter during raid scares aerial – and was a popular success.
President Zelenskyy then “fully supported that the next step should be the organization of maybe a big tournament”, Pavelko said. “We realize that Ukrainians think football (is) a good opportunity to return to normal life.”
A symbolic victory for Ukrainian football would be if World Cup matches were played in the country’s second most famous stadium, the Donbass Arena in busy Donetsk, built before Euro 2012.
The Shakhtar Donetsk club have been exiled from their stadium since 2014, when conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatist groups and government forces.
“We will have enough time to renovate the Donbass Arena,” Pavelko said, although it is unclear how badly the 52,000-seat venue was damaged.
When asked if Ukraine could agree to the Russian team playing on their territory in 2030, Pavelko replied that “it cannot be my personal decision”.
All Russian teams are currently banned from international competitions for security reasons by UEFA and FIFA, which withdrew the men’s team from the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in March. Poland initially refused to play their scheduled game against Russia.
If Russia is reinstated and then qualified for the 2030 edition, its course in the tournament could be oriented during the draw towards Spain and Portugal.
Ukrainian teams continued to play in international competitions, with most “home” matches being hosted in Poland.
“I am absolutely sure,” said Pavelko, “that all the boys and girls who are currently in the occupied territories of Ukraine will have the chance to play in these (World Cup) stadiums under the Ukrainian flag. “