Some sort of re-vote on the tainted tallies that awarded FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022 to Russia and (most stunningly, most notoriously, most annoyingly) Qatar still seems unlikely.
Even with the dizzying wave of corruption charges that swept over world soccer’s power brokers on Wednesday, the World Cup in Russia would seem impossible to dislodge at this point.
More hope may prevail in overturning the choice of Qatar in 2022, one that was always completely wacky on its face. But even that grows less likely as each day of controversial construction unfolds in that tiny-but-influential Arab nation.
But … ! As today is a day when the seemingly impossible is suddenly happening – Seriously, who thought that true accountability would ever threaten FIFA’s smug godfathers? – perhaps this is also a day for dreaming impossible dreams. I mean, this is a day when people stood in a room and actually applauded the IRS for heaven’s sakes (for its role in the ongoing, U.S.-led FIFA investigation). Who remember the old Adidas campaign: “Impossible is nothing!”?
So here are the questions: Could the United States still make a run at hosting World Cup 2022? Would it stand a chance? And how quickly could a quality bid be assembled?
The short answers are: Yes. Absolutely. And quicker than you can say, “Relax, we got this.”
A couple of caveats: I know this may sound like the ugly American wanting all things to be about the United States. I get it: Soccer is the world’s party, and we got there late. As such, we can’t be “that guy,” the self-important clown who shows up late but then wants to change the music or re-organize the seating arrangements.
But there is a real-world element to consider here: the United States is the world’s largest economic influencer. That means a lot, especially when it comes to organization of FIFA’s scale. Forbes estimated the 2014 World Cup alone would generate $4 billion in total revenue.
Consider what ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said Wednesday morning, bearing in mind that he’s an “outsider” in soccer but a smarty in keeping sports in larger perspective: “Europe’s markets are a mess, and we are stronger right now. Everybody’s got problems; we’ve got fewer problems,” he said on his daily show, The Herd. “And now that we are all in on soccer, we are going to be one of the leaders in world soccer. We are going to have a bigger say in soccer from this point forward, because we are the biggest power in the world.”
That means the United States’ abilities and capacities to host FIFA events, including the king daddy, the quadrennial World Cup, will remain on the rise, stronger than ever before.
There will be those who believe the opposite of all this is true, that the United States will be branded as some sort of global “snitch,” or be ostracized due to its leadership role in sweeping up this long-standing FIFA mess. And it could work that way, depending on how many of the true culprits, the shadowy figures desperate to hide their own conflicts, secrets and sins, can successfully re-brand themselves as “reformers” while retaining degrees of power and influence in Zurich.
So, yes, that’s a possibility. In that scenario, the United States would certainly wait a very long time before forgiveness could begin to set in.
But what if it happens another way? What if enough reasonable voices rise to actually thank the United States for taking a power washer to this fetid cesspool? ESPN’s Ian Darke, a wise voice in the game, put it like this on Twitter: “Football owes Justice Dept, FBI, IRS huge debt of gratitude for expose of FIFA ‘culture of corruption.’ ”
So in the most practical terms, why would FIFA – either a new regime or a semi-new set looking to appear “reformed” – consider the United States as a World Cup host? It’s quite simple: money matters to FIFA. Nothing is going to change that.
In fact, depending on legal fees, potential dents to the FIFA marketing machine and possible loss of sponsor revenue, money may matter more to world soccer’s governing body going forward. Think about your own situation: once we climb a certain financial rung in life and get accustomed to a certain lifestyle, none of us want to kick it down a notch, do we? FIFA is no different; they’ll have revenue to make up after all this.
A World Cup in the United States would make oodles of money. Don’t forget, the U.S. TV rights to the World Cup now are the globe’s most lucrative.
And then there is the charm of unprecedented ticket revenue (without significant investment in facilities and infrastructure needed in South Africa or Brazil). That was always the centerpiece of the previous U.S. bid, which was for 18 cities (and 21 stadiums).
Back in 2010, when U.S. bid details were unveiled, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati trumpeted an average capacity of more than 70,000. That would create more than 5 million tickets (assuming the current format of a 32-team, 64-match tournament). That’s about 33 percent more than attendance for the 1994 World Cup, which still holds the record for tickets sold.
Beside TV and ticket revenue, don’t forget how many of the official 2014 World Cup sponsors are U.S-based. Will FIFA really tell Coca-Cola, VISA, Budweiser, Castrol, Johnson & Johnson and McDonalds “no thanks” to their money? If they ostracize the United States, isn’t that what they are doing?
As for how quickly it could come together, that’s hardly an obstacle. If it came to it, the United States could re-assemble that bid in a week. Or something quite close to it. Organizing big events is simply in the United States’ DNA.
As upset as Gulati and other U.S. officials were about the process that took the 2018 and 2022 World Cups elsewhere, does anyone really think they trashed all the bid materials? Of course not; they just stuck them away into a closet somewhere, hopeful that perhaps the day would arrive when sunlight would finally shine FIFA’s dark side.
That day appears to have arrived. Again, it’s all a bit of a long shot … but a lot less of a long shot today than yesterday.
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk.
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