With the World Cup now officially this year, there will be more focus than ever before on soccer in America. ESPN is putting an awful lot of resources into covering the 2010 World Cup, and with the U.S. having more than a sporting chance to make it into the knockout round, the country could very well be in a soccer frenzy this summer.
But really, none of the future success of the sport in this country has anything to do with 2010. Sure, it'll be nice to win a few matches and have a favorable showing on the world stage, but for U.S. Soccer, everything they accomplish this year becomes about 2018 or 2022. Which is why the news today that Spike Lee has joined the Board of Directors for the official USA Bid Committee is potentially such a big deal.
In just under a year, host nations for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be chosen, and the U.S. is competing against Australia, England, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Qatar, South Korea, Netherlands-Belgium, and Portugal-Spain for the right to host one of the tournaments. With the U.S. losing out on the 2016 Olympic bid, the upcoming World Cup voting takes on even more importance. There are some very heavy hitters already on the bid committee, including Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Disney President and CEO Robert Iger, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Executive VP at ESPN John Skipper and even Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. This bid committee is, indeed, pulling out some big guns.
Take a look at the photo above and what do you see? Lots of white faces. Sure there's U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati front and center. And Joe Uva, the CEO of Univision is on the committee, but other than Ed Foster-Simeon, US Soccer Foundation President, there isn't a black face on the board. Lee adds needed diversity to the group, but he will be far from just a token black face to add some diversity to the team photo. Lee can have influence.
While we associate Lee with basketball because of his front-row seats at the Garden and 'gotta be the shoes' history, he is a noted soccer fan as well. Lee is an Arsenal fan and friend of some of the French national players, especially Thierry Henry. He's also a season-ticket holder for F.C. Internazionale Milano (Inter) and traveled to and from New York to the 2006 World Cup in Germany for the semifinals and finals. The guy is into it.
"Spike Lee owns a distinct creative spirit and unbridled passion for sport and we’re privileged to be able to incorporate his voice into the development of our bid," said Sunil Gulati, the Chairman of the USA Bid Committee and President of U.S. Soccer. "As a fan of soccer and a father of a youth level player, Spike will provide a unique and invaluable perspective to our board of directors."
Think about this: the last time the Unite States hosted a World Cup in 1994, an entire league was spawned. This is where it gets insane to think about (as someone who was of the soccer-playing age in 1994), but if the U.S. wins one of these bids, it will be an entire generation since the last time they hosted the event. An entire generation has grown up with soccer in their lives, both recreationally and, with the sustainability of MLS, professionally.
Soccer has been more prominent in the last 15 years than ever before, but the sport has always been looked at as one of privilege in America, which is the exact opposite of how the rest of the world sees the game. Soccer is a street game; it's a game played more on blacktops and dirt lots with brick walls for goals than on the pristine fields we've grown accustomed to in this country. In America, soccer has long been the game kids sign up for in the fall when they aren't tough enough to play football. But real football is as tough as any sport. Getting that message to those in this generation is important. And having a guy like Lee who can not only provide a big name to put at the top of a press release, but also a guy who can make inroads in the African-American community, is important for the future of the sport as well.
And lets face it, if soccer is going continue its success in America in this generation, it's going to have to start competing more for kids who habitually flock to other sports like basketball or football. Soccer needs to shed the elitist association and become cool. Kissinger, for all his political pull, can't make something cool. Lee can.
Now all we need is a little Mars Blackmon ad with Jozy Altidore as the star. Jozy, is it the cleats? It's gotta be the cleats.
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.