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Rival sports threaten Australia's Cup bid

Australian officials want FIFA to allow the country's domestic football codes to continue running their competitions during the World Cup if their bid to host the tournament in 2018 or 2022 is successful.

Under FIFA rules, countries that are awarded the World Cup cannot run rival competitions at the same time as the finals but Australia is hoping for an exemption to head off an escalating row that threatens to scupper the bid.

"I think all the other codes understand there are substantial benefits to Australia as a nation to host the World Cup and I am pretty confident we will work through those issues and come to an agreement," Football Federation of Australia (FFA) boss Ben Buckley told Fairfax Media.

"We will discuss with FIFA the possibility of continuing the competitions and we would expect that there are precedents that would say that those competitions can continue to occur during the World Cup."

Australia is vying with some of the sport's traditional powers from Europe, Asia and North America to host the World Cup but the bid is already facing strong opposition on the domestic front over access to the country's biggest stadiums.

The domestic A-League plays in the Australian summer, in the off-seasons of popular winter sports Australian Rules (AFL), rugby league (NRL) and rugby union, partly because of the need to use the country's limited number of top-class sports grounds while the other sports hibernate.

But a World Cup, traditionally held in June/July, would clash with the other sports, who have long-term agreements with venues like Sydney's Olympic stadium and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Officials from the rival codes have indicated they would agree to grant the FFA exclusive access to the largest grounds during a World Cup but are reluctant to shut down their competitions for months on end.

"We don't want to try to block the bid but we do have concerns that we think are legitimate," NRL chief executive David Gallop said. "I'll be meeting with FFA later this week and hopefully they can shed some light on what has really been proposed. We just can't disappear off the face of the earth."

Meanwhile, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has claimed his competition could have to skip a season if the World Cup requires the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground to be closed for months to be re-developed to meet FIFA standards. Buckley has refuted the claims, but there is a possibilty government intervention will be required to bring other codes into line.

The issue is unique to Australia because it is the only major sporting nation where four professional football codes operate in the same crowded market place and share the same stadia. The competition for spectators and sponsorship money is already fierce but, unlike the majority of other World Cup hosts, football is not the most popular sport and is relying on the tournament to give it a much-needed boost.

"We understand there's a competitive element but I think the World Cup is bigger than any individual sport," Buckley said. "I think everyone understands that, it's a matter of working together constructively to find some solutions."

Australia must have final bid documents in place by May next year with FIFA scheduled to announce the hosts for 2018 and 2022 in December.

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