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Could Obama’s Election Hurt the US Bid to Host the World Cup?


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.

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  1. Tidwell

    February 24, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    I didn’t read all this; but Mexico is a real country in trouble, they won’t hold it there: not based on current factors, crime/narco-crime is way out of control and I lived near the border in ’86: got a good taste of that World Cup: but this seems to be a different place now. Back in ’86; at the border, one could get stickers and one could watch it on tv and after it was all over, the station broadcast all the games again. That’s basically, the first soccer I really saw.

    People are saying their own political views of which we all have: but I will refrain. I would not think the position of Presidency will be of central importance in making any kind of a decision as of now.

    I tend to root (oh, by the way, don’t say that in Australia or England or the UK), I mean I tend to cheer for the 3 Lions, I was raised a lot on English Rock and I watched the Hand of God play against England. That’s all in the past: but yes, a lot of fans, probably like Rooney, Gerrard, Liverpool, etc.

  2. Marc

    February 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Get over it already, the election is over.
    A president who is perceived as fare, honest, and a true leader can only help our cause of obtaining a WC bid.
    Given that he has only been the President for 1 Month lets give the man a chance to support any and all American sports. I believe the US would have to win a WC bid while he is in office before he could make that call. All I’m saying is to stop the speculation and lets wait and see. Four years from now we will know and you will have a second chance to jump on board.

  3. Joey Clams

    February 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I’m more concerned with getting the country sorted out. If we get the WC, fine. It not, oh, well. I’ll watch on TV.

  4. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    February 24, 2009 at 3:29 am

    SUM wouldn’t make any more money off England-Mexico than County Y vs Mexico.

    We learned in 2005 with Mexico’s games against the US in Chicago and against Colombia at the Meadowlands that the majority of English fans who come to games in the US actually travel from England. Neither game sold out and the vast majority of fans were rooting for the other team, not England!

    England fans in the states are big talkers. Those who are English care, but the American who roots for the Three Lions does it out of convenience since they are Premier League focused and isn’t about to spend money on watching England play in person. SUM has made plenty of money off Mexico, and in fact as we’ve speculated about on this site in past that is probably the number one reason why MLS is in a position to weather this world financial meltdown.

  5. Brian Zygo

    February 23, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    I think Bush not being in office helps the US bid more then who is actually in office. But that’s just me. Plus, it seems that the folks who control FIFA, have a much more Euro slant and the memory of all the money that was made in 1994 cannot be far from their minds. Before going on air tonight, we were talking about how much money SUM could make if they could get England and Mexico to square off in a friendly here in the States, and they would make a ton.

  6. eplnfl

    February 23, 2009 at 9:54 pm


    Protectionists fears leads to the US not getting the World Cup. Bill Clinton not carrying about football. George Bush the first pro-MLS President.

    Ok, were reaching on this one. Fairness to the “right wing base” time. President Obama has stated he will do whatever necessary to help Chicago obtain the 2016 Olympics. Which will be held a few minutes from his home if Chicago is selected. Bill Clinton opened the 1994 WC in Chicago. Rumor has it that Obama has taken in a Fire game. He is however a well known White Sox fan and a great fan fan of sports in general. How and why is is supposed to be A West Ham fan has never to my knowledge been stated.

    Any US bid for a WC will be opposed in many corners of the globe for various reasons. The policies of the Obama administration appear at this early date to encourage the US playing it’s proper role in the world in all areas. Might no longer makes right. The US will be able to join the world in many environmental efforts that it once opposed. International cooperation as a means of solving world issues will be promoted. This can only help a US bid.

  7. Lars

    February 23, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Unlikely he’ll damage them. His presence alone will likely bolster the bid, but without active support the US won’t get it.

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