U.S. bid swings and misses
The reasons the U.S. failed to land the 2022 World Cup -- and Qatar succeeded -- will be endless fodder for conjecture. But a glimpse of the likely argument against the U.S. was on display on a grainy Web feed out of Zurich on Wednesday morning. With its approach of offering itself up as the practical pick, rather than the emotional one, the U.S. swung and missed.
The presentation process is widely believed to be an inconsequential beauty pageant, demonstrating more a country's PR savvy than its actual preparedness and ability to host a World Cup. But while it won't put anybody over the top, or doom a campaign, it does offer a microcosm of the state of the race. In 30-odd minutes, each bid's grand plea laid out an easily digestable pros and cons list of its respective campaigns.
The big knock on the U.S. bid, according to a report filed by FIFA's inspectors who briefly toured the country in September, was a lack of government guarantees. FIFA is accustomed to getting the combination to the vault when it awards a country a World Cup. It makes far-reaching demands and takes financial and fiscal liberties. The bid evaluators weren't convinced they would get all of that in the U.S.
And so the U.S. tried to convince FIFA otherwise. "We have a government that stands behind us at the local, state and federal level," said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. To further buttress that argument, the U.S. presentation included a recorded message by President Barack Obama, beamed onto the projection screen, which, while effective in showing government support, didn't mention the sought-after guarantees. Then, weirdly, it also pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder would be on hand and available to answer questions on the government's good will.
Not surprisingly, several of the other bids pointed out that this wasn't an issue for their bid.
"Korea has no trouble with FIFA policy," the South Korean bid quickly slipped in between two grandiose statements about welcoming the world and the power of soccer in the divided peninsula.
"Our government has wholeheartedly supported this bid from day one," Qatar declared.
Qatar, in turn, addressed its own major demerit: soccer in 120-degree heat. Time and again, the organizers said they could keep stadiums cool with air conditioners, and that the conditions would be ideal.
Japan, probably the biggest outsider, threw the longest Hail Mary, suggesting it would beam the games into stadiums all around the world in 3D, digitally replicating the games live in the foreign stadiums. But here its presentation dug to the crux of it in like fashion. That its bid has been relegated to fantasy was most evident by its bizarre clip on the dreams of Japan's children and the "smiles" it promised to "deliver to 208 countries."
Australia, just like every other country that's not the U.S., tried to pander to a sense of greater purpose, rather than present a cogent argument about the merits of its bid. It showed off its landscapes, raved about the tournament's potential as "nation-changing" and to "turbo-charge the growth of football in the Asian and Pacific rims." It, too, pointed out that "the Australian government has issued every guarantee has sought without ammendments or variations," in another implicit swipe at the U.S. bid.
In comparison to its competitors, the U.S. presentation, touching on the usual inane fare about being multicultural and professing how much the country loves the game, looked timid and was marred by gaffes. Morgan Freeman accidentally skipped a page of his speech and interrupted himself to correct it; several people misspoke and all speeches but Freeman's were flat and uninspired -- most notably former President Bill Clinton's meandering talk about many things other than the World Cup, including his foundation's work. Then there was the ill-advised spell when the slouching Gulati nixed the dais embraced by everybody else and paced around, giving his speech through a hand-held microphone.
But regardless of its flaws, the presentation, as indeed did the entire bid campaign, focused on the U.S. as a practical, flexible (18 World Cup-ready cities to choose from!) and profitable choice. It was eminently clear that the U.S. had chosen to appeal to the bean counters, rather than those voting from the heart. Many of the talking points revolved around the record number of tickets sold when the U.S. held the '94 World Cup -- while steering clear of having hosted so recently, the second-biggest strike against the 2022 bid. Then the U.S. tried to induce salivation by hyping the potential riches flowing forth from sponsorship and broadcast rights, while pointing out that the necessary stadiums, airports, train links and hotels exist and are operational.
Ultimately, Qatar, which had been in a dead heat with the U.S. according to insiders and bookmakers, ran a stirring campaign, offering FIFA what it so craves: a new market. The tiny oil-fueled state's beautiful proposition was reflected in a presentation that blew the U.S.'s out of the water aesthetically and emotionally. "When?" one of the stunning videos asked. When would the Arabs finally get the tournament of tournaments?
In 2022, as it turns out.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leander SchaerlaeckensContributing writer, ESPN.com
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