Everything will be on the line tomorrow, Thursday, December 2nd, at 9:00 AM CST as FIFA is set to announce which countries will be hosting the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. Over the past couple of months, the build up to the voting has been nothing short of rivaling a circus. The bidding process has been filled with intrigue, politics, and the general craziness that seemingly can always be found in the world of international soccer, and especially the kind that involves tens of billions of dollars. Follow me after the break for more in depth analysis and video of the USA bid presentation...
Right now it appears that the two front running countries are England in 2018 and the US in 2022. For a full background on each country's respective bid, here's a quick run down for each tournament. A dark horse for 2018 seems to be Qatar as they have lots of money and many oil tycoons that will look to exert their influence. While England is the consensus favorite in ‘18, Russia has been gaining momentum recently to the point they are solidly the underdog in the best context of the word. This is all but confirmed by England sparring with Russia in the last days before the voting process. In addition, the official English bid has been on the defensive after recent journalistic probes into FIFA by English media outlets have revealed embarrassments for FIFA. Michael Planti, UEFA President and a FIFA Vice-President, dismissed that recent stories would play a part in the bid but other English criticism might cost them:
If they [the England bid] do not have a good feeling about FIFA, that's nothing to do with these investigations, but that comes from what the English press have been writing about FIFA for very many years. That could be a problem for the bid. But this? No…. Anyway, I think people have already decided which way they are voting.
So recent reports won’t matter because people have made up their minds but those people might not be too happy about other English investigations in the past? All right then Mr. Planti. If that wets your appetite for more information on FIFA scandals, Foxsoccer.com can provide you with snapshots of some of the corruption that has been brought to light. A second, third, or whatever you want to call it helping can be found here thanks to the Guardian. FIFA is not exactly known for cracking down on corruption, in fact, they are kind of known for it. It would surprise me if the most recent alleged offenders are given anything more than a slap on the wrist. It would be nice for the host countries to win their bids on merit, but sadly that's not the case in today's day and age.
Putting the process aside, let’s look at what a US World Cup would do from an outcome level. The prevailing thought is that soccer has been growing steadily here since the 1994 World Cup. I’ll be honest in that I know a handful of people that had never watched soccer until that tournament in the US. Granted there were not that many opportunities to watch soccer on TV in the mid-90’s but most of those people who watched for the first time, I know they still follow soccer today. The US World Cup definitely created an upward trend along with the creation of the MLS. The USA 2022 bid is building on that momentum and using the argument that by 2022 US soccer will be bigger and better to the point that a World Cup could help put the sport over the top to permanently compete with the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. Luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Landon Donovan, and Mia Hamm made their final pitches today in Zurich for the US presentation. Check out their work right here:
This was a scaled down pitch as the US originally planned to bid for 2018. Again FIFA politics came into play and rumors suggested the US could strengthen their chances for 2022 by dropping the 2018 bid. You won’t get anyone at US Soccer to admit it but here we are with all the eggs in the 2022 basket. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we are a world power, and a favorite to host any non-consecutive North American World Cup. My guess, FIFA didn't want the US to be big players in both bids and complicate voting so they basically gave the US an ultimatum, ‘bid for one or you will get none’. Again, pure merit for these decisions would be great but it is what it is.
I think the US will win the 2022 World Cup bid and I think it will be a major push again for US soccer. I would love to be able to attend a World Cup game, even if it can't be in Chicago. Hopefully, the MLS will be a top notch league able to compete with major European leagues by then. I personally expect our country to be putting out quality young players on a regular basis and we'll have the ability to woo international players at the peak of their careers with competitive salaries. While we are dreaming, the Fire of course will be coming off their 12th consecutive MLS Cup final. Some of that might be a stretch but it is truly exciting for what soccer will be in the US in 12 years. None of that is truly out of the question. In terms of landing the cup itself, we have the infrastructure, security, stadiums, lodging, and technology already in place. We don't have to spend billions of dollars on new stadiums, and the only concern FIFA had in their US World Cup bid report was a "medium legal risk" since the US government has not yet pledged full support. I understand assurances from governments help FIFA protect their interests too, but come on. Do they really think the US government would be against a World Cup here and all the revenue and attention t would bring? The only other issue I can see is how spread out the stadiums are but it's not like they are neighboring stadiums in Japan even.
In the end, I expect the US to get the bid. Despite anti-American sentiments in the world, as well as the bribery and corruption scandals that seem to plague FIFA on a regular basis, the American bid seems the strongest and the continental timing is right. As for making the bid process simpler, FIFA cleaning house, and actually trying to clean up their reputation, we can only hope but FIFA President Sepp Blatter doesn't seem to ever do anything but provide lip service. With that amount of money and big names in international soccer, my guess is we’ll never see a fair, everyone on the same level system. I approach it as it is what is and hope for the best for the USA. I will be following the bid process all day on Thursday and be sure to catch our follow-up shortly after the live announcement tomorrow morning. Let's go USA!