US Simplifies World Cup Bid, Now Up Against Four Asian Nations for 2022
"We are confident this is in the best interests of the USA bid," committee chairman and U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said.
The move (first reported by Steven Goff of The Washington Post) doesn't change anything in the real world, of course.
By 2018, soccer's most powerful confederation will have gone a record 12 years without hosting the sport's biggest event. With the European bids concentrated on that year, there was always a 100% chance that FIFA's executive committee would award the 2018 World Cup to one of the four European contenders (England, Russia, Spain/Portugal, Netherlands/Belgium).
Japan and Australia backed out of the 2018 race some time ago, but the U.S. stayed in, at least officially. The thinking among some observers and writers was that Gulati was maintaining some kind of leverage by staying the course. CONCACAF has three votes on the 24-man FIFA committee -- votes that would have gone to the U.S. had it stayed in the running.
Now, those votes are in play for 2018. And they can be traded, theoretically and behind the scenes, for support in 2022. That's the thinking, at least.
But traded to whom?
Each of the four 2018 bids is represented by someone on the executive committee. They're the only ones who need the votes. The five remaining European votes likely will be split, while Africa (four votes), South America (three) and Oceania (one) have nothing to gain and are free to go their own way for both 2018 and 2022.
The U.S. couldn't trade for Asian support because its competition for 2022 is four Asian Football Confederation nations (Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea). We're not getting 2022 votes from the committee's four Asian members regardless.
So, unless CONCACAF wants to swap its three 2018 votes for a single 2022 vote from one of the four interested European committee members, it possessed no leverage whatsoever.
So why did the U.S. stay in it for this long? Because it could. Because it probably didn't cost that much extra. And because it demonstrated the seriousness and flexibility of the bid. We can host it in 2018. Or 2022. Or both. Or even next week. That's the message it sent.
But when FIFA decided it was ready to finalize out the details of the official bid presentations and Dec. 2 vote, it wanted a bit more clarity. So it asked Gulati and Co. to make their withdrawal official -- again, there never was a chance to begin with -- and the Americans were happy to show their team spirit and comply.
"There was a growing movement to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe. The announcement of today by the USA bid to focus solely on the 2022 FIFA World Cup is therefore a welcome gesture which is much appreciated by FIFA," general secretary Jerome Valcke said.
The executive committee expects to settle on the logistics of the presentation and voting process starting Oct. 28.
So now it comes down to the U.S., Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea for 2022. This is a contest the U.S. should win easily. The latter two just co-hosted the competition in 2002, the Australian bid lacks momentum and sufficient stadiums, and Qatar (while rolling in FIFA's favorite natural resource -- cash) is simply too small to host. The stadiums it has proposed are stunning, but they're down the street from each other.
And China's rumored interest in 2026 could torpedo all four competitors. A confederation cannot host two consecutive World Cups, and FIFA would fall over themselves to award the tournament to the world's most populous nation.
Politics could always come into play -- remember how Chicago's Olympic bid fell stunningly flat. Qatar and Korea are wealthy and well-connected. But there is no tangible or sensible reason that the U.S. shouldn't win. And with Friday's nod to FIFA, the 2022 World Cup is now Gulati's to lose.