Obama’s Election Could Bring World Cup To U.S.

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The U.S. Soccer Federation thinks the election of President Barack Obama will help persuade FIFA to award the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States.

”Given everything that, frankly, President Obama has said, everything he stands for, everything he’s talked about in terms of reaching out to the world,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said Monday, ”that trying to bring the global game to the United States and opening our borders up for a festival of 32 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the world would be viewed in a very positive way.”

FIFA received 11 preliminary bids for both the tournaments Tuesday, including applications from the United States, England and Russia.

Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Indonesia and Qatar all submitted the paperwork on time. Netherlands-Belgium and Spain-Portugal each made joint offers, although FIFA president Sepp Blatter has expressed a preference for single-nation bids. Possible contenders Egypt and China did not submit bids.

Next year’s World Cup will be in South Africa and the 2014 tournament will be staged by Brazil. FIFA says its executive committee will decide hosts for both tournaments in December 2010, and Blatter has expressed a preference for single-nation bids.

”What happened over the last several months and what happened two weeks ago in Washington has dramatically changed the view of United States and its leadership around the world. It would be impossible to think anything different,” Gulati said during a conference call. ”And for those of us who travel around the world quite a bit, that is noticeable, it’s audible and it’s visible. So that clearly is a positive for frankly, for Chicago bidding for the Olympics and for any effort to bring the World Cup back here.”

The United States hosted the 1994 tournament at nine stadiums and set records for total attendance (3.58 million) and average (68,991). Major League Soccer launched in 1996, and Gulati said another tournament in the United States would ”finish the job.”

”Out of ’94, we launched a professional league that isn’t the Premier League or La Liga today, but I’d like to understand where those two leagues were 14 years in. We have a half-a-dozen brand new soccer-specific stadiums. We have television coverage in both languages,” Gulati said. ”It certainly raised the profile of game in the United States. But in my view, it’s unfinished business because it’s still not the same as it is in some other countries.”

Gulati said 25-35 U.S. stadiums would be included in the bid and would be capable of hosting World Cup matches with little alteration, a contrast to the massive building and reconstruction at the last two World Cups and for South Africa next year and Brazil in 2014.

Given that the next two World Cups will be played outside of Europe, England and Spain are considered the favorites for 2018. England was the host in 1966, and Spain in 1982.

Eight of the 24 votes on the FIFA executive committee are from Europe, another factor that could tilt 2018 toward Europe.

”The notion that you need to be back in Europe because two have been outside of the key continent for commercial reasons doesn’t hold up, frankly, because the United States can offer can offer all of those commercial advantages, whether it’s sponsors, television or anything else,” Gulati said. ”The World Cup has never been away from Europe for that long, so going in, I can understand how people would come to that conclusion and if somewhere along the way we come to the same conclusion, then we may focus on one or the other.”

Among the nine areas used in 1994, new stadiums have opened in Detroit; Foxborough, Mass.; and Landover, Md. In addition, Solider Field in Chicago was extensively refurbished, and new stadiums are to open next year in Arlington, Texas; and East Rutherford, N.J.

Since 1994, large new stadiums also have opened in Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Denver; Glendale, Ariz.; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; Seattle; and Tampa, Fla. In addition, the Superdome in New Orleans was refurbished after Hurricane Katrina.

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., which hosted Brazil’s victory over Italy in the 1994 final, hasn’t been refurbished. The Los Angeles Coliseum also isn’t a viable option.

”The city and the state have several years to try to make sure they’ve got a stadium that will work for the World Cup,” Gulati said. ”Both stadiums aren’t, you know, aren’t up to the standard right now of some of the brand-new NFL stadiums that exist in other cities.”

Facilities also have not been upgraded in Orlando, Fla.; and San Francisco.

”Does a current stadium in the Bay Area work?” Gulati said. ”It would be hard to say that it does, but 14 years is a long time and I’d be shocked if something doesn’t happen in that period of time.”

Univision president David Downs, a former ABC executive, is leaving his job to become executive director of the bid. Gulati will chair the bid committee and be joined on the committee board by USSF chief executive officer Dan Flynn, MLS commissioner Don Garber and Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs senior director who was finance chair of the Democratic National Committee and is an owner of Sky Blue FC in the Women’s Professional Soccer league.

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