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February 3, 2009
U.S. Ready to host World Cup

By Michael Lewis Editor

Sunil Gulati is optimistic about the U.S.'s bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Sunil Gulati is optimistic about the U.S.'s bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Bradenton, Fla. -- For U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, it isn't a matter of if the U.S. is going to host the World Cup, it's a matter of when.

While announcing that the U.S. was throwing its hat into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups Monday, Gulati obviously hopes that it will be sooner than later.

"We're completely prepared and expecting the competition," he said during a conference call. "We're going to put in the best bid we can."

FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has decided to name the host of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups at the same time, in December, 2010. The winning bidders will have eight or 12 years to prepare. Countries traditionally have six years.

The U.S. will compete England, Russia, Netherlands-Belgium-Luxembourg, Spain-Portugal from Europe, Mexico from CONCACAF, Australia, Tokyo, Qatar and Indonesia from Asia as candidates. Former Univision president David Downs was named the USA WC bid committee's executive director. Downs' first priority is to establish an office in midtown Manhattan.

Because two consecutive World Cups will be played off the continent (2010 in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil), its more than a good bet that the 2018 will go to Europe. England is considered the leading candidate. If that occurs, the U.S. will the non-Euro countries for 2022.

Gulati's optimism stems from several reasons. FIFA does want to return to the U.S. after its highly successful World Cup, which set attendance records (3.6 million) that still stands today even though the past three World Cup had larger fields and more games.

"The ability to put on a World Cup, especially in the world economic environment were in, that calls for major public sector spending on facilities or infrastructure is something that is a big challenge for a lot of countries," he said. "We are not relying on that. Obviously with the next two hosts they have to rely on that, and I understand that. Weve all read stories about that from South Africa and Brazil that the public sector is going to be heavily involved in the financing of stadiums.

"So, I think we offer something very different. Were not asking for public funds, and I think after South Africa and Brazil, FIFA would be very happy to go to a country or countries that have experience, a proven capability of sporting event management and have large markets.

The U.S. gets an immediate check in every important category -- state-of-the-art stadiums (at least 12 with minimum capacities of 40,000 for group matches and 80,000 for the opener and final), reliable transportation and accommodation, TV broadcasting and information technology.

And then there's a non-soccer wildcard -- the recent election of Barrack Obama as president.

"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 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," Gulati said.

"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."

Stadiums are the biggest criteria and Gulati figured that the U.S. will have 35-40 stadiums that will do quite nicely.

The new stadium that will house the Giants and Jets sounds like a sure bet to host games again. Giants Stadium held seven World Cup matches, including the semis in 1994.

"New York is still a pretty important facility," Gulati said. "The thought of playing across the river . . . is appealing to us."

Saying that, Mexico hosted two pretty decent World Cups in 1970 and 1986s. While Gulati praised the Mexicans, he championed the USA's cause.

"What the U.S. bid will offer FIFA in the development of the game will be very clear to FIFA over the next 20 months," he said.

Asked if he thought any of the candidates pose a threat to the U.S's bid, Gulati replied, "Do we consider some of them more of a threat to our successful candidacy than others? No, I think there are a number of countries that are capable of hosting the World Cup and that would do a good job. I would think that wed be at the top of that list.
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