The election of Barack Obama was met with adulation in Europe and Africa but with skepticism throughout Asia and Latin America. Speculation has been abound that Obama’s election helps the US cause for landing a future World Cup. But Obama’s election is by no means a universal positive for the USSF’s hopes of hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Having traveled abroad the past month, Obama may actually undermine the reputation of the United States as a world leader. In South Asia it is feared that Obama is a protectionist, who much like the Republicans who fought the Treaty of Versailles will withdraw the United States from its international responsibilities. The other fear is that under Obama, the US will cede its superpower status to deal with problems at home.
Whatever the case about Obama’s reputation and his policies, he is unlikely to have the impact on FIFA’s decision that some of his fellow heads of states will have.
Football is the world sport. Post cold war America has been less isolated and insular in its thought which is a big part of the reason the sport has grown in the U.S. But Obama’s agenda at this early stage appears to be a sharp reversal of what has grown football in the country.
Obama unlike his predecessor George W. Bush has never shown the slightest interest in the domestic game. The President is a West Ham United supporter but Bush supported an MLS side: the Houston Dynamo and took the occasion of the Dynamo’s consecutive MLS Cups to introduce American club football to the mainstream by inviting the champions to the White House.
Bush also called Bruce Arena minutes before the US’ opening group match with the Czech Republic at Germany 2006. President Bill Clinton did not place such a call in 1998 before the US opened with Germany. Neither Clinton nor Obama has shown the slightest public interest in the US program, although Clinton showed up a match between France and Portugal at the 2006 World Cup. As someone who voted for Clinton twice, I was gravely insulted that he’d make the effort to see France play, but not his own country.
It’s a given that Gordon Brown (who is Scottish) or David Cameron will go to the mat in public to support England’s 2018 bid. Kevin Rudd will do the same for Australia. German politicians were prominent in promoting the 2006 bid for their nation and were South African politicians in securing the 2010 competition after being spurned for 2006.
France in 1998 was the last nation to win the right to host the World Cup without full public governmental support of their bid: in fact the effort to host the World Cup divided France politically. But plenty of politicians openly supported the French effort.
No constituency is attached to football in this country. Obama’s handlers have been shrewd in playing constituency politics. For Brown and Cameron who are seeking a Parliamentary Majority in the next UK election, openly discussing England’s 2018 bid helps win votes: For Obama it could be the opposite.
Hostile sports writers and anti immigrant groups along with their cheerleaders at Fox News probably would pillage Obama if he made an outward effort to campaign for the United States bid. They would claim, perhaps rightfully it is another effort by Obama and his party to be loved in Europe, and elite east coast circles. Let’s not forget Obama himself has never to my knowledge attended a US National Team match even though many an important and attractive match have been played since his 2004 Election to the US Senate in his hometown, Chicago.
Could you imagine Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel or Silvio Berlusconi (who owns AC Milan) not attending a single national team match in their hometown over a four year period? Based on this Obama cannot even be counted on the privately lobby FIFA, which Brown, Rudd and other national leaders certainly will do.
But even if Obama wanted to be helpful to the USSF’s bid, could he really pivot politically in a climate hostile to immigrants, Europe and the game itself. Perhaps, but why risk putting a potential negative issue on the table in 2012? Given George W. Bush’s core constituency, he probably could have made a more open effort on behalf of the USSF and not taken a political risk. And who knows, perhaps he would have been more committed to the cause anyhow, given that he actually has acknowledged MLS’ existence.
Last week we learned exactly what the conservative talking points against the US bid will be: they revolve around immigration and terrorism. Should Obama risk exposure on these issues to push a bid for something most Americans won’t even know is going on until a week or two before the actual event.
Conventional wisdom is that the goodwill of Obama’s election helps the US World Cup bid. But often the pundits are wrong and while they could be correct this time around, Obama isn’t all positive for America’s hopes.