On Thursday morning in Zurich, Switzerland, the 22 members of the FIFA executive committee will vote on the hosts of the 2022 World Cup so when the five bidding countries took to the stage on Wednesday, it was the final chance for each bid to impress and gather votes. The United States took the opportunity to emphasize the earning power of a World Cup hosted in U.S., the country's diversity and how prepared the country's infrastructure is for the mega-event, but the scene stealers for the U.S. came with star power in the form of Morgan Freeman, former President Bill Clinton and a taped message from President Barack Obama.
The United States opened their presentation with a video, followed by a speech from Freeman, who is a member of the U.S. bid committee, who emphasized the country's diversity. Freeman spoke of his love of the United States and stated that the United States, "is the most diverse nation on earth...lots of Americans, one America." He also appropriately quoted Nelson Mandela, considering that Freeman played Mandela in the movie "Invictus," in saying that, "sport has the power to change the world."
Freeman's emphasis on diversity would continue throughout the presentation as President Obama spoke on tape and United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati spoke, as well as during Landon Donovan's appearance. Most of all, the theme of diversity and the impact that a United States hosted World Cup could have on the world was hammered home by Clinton, who was also not shy about reminding voters about the time he spent with them at this summer's World Cup in South Africa.
The contingent of Americans in Zurich for the presentation and vote also included Mia Hamm, who received acknowledgment from FIFA President Sepp Blatter before the United States' presentation. It was an additional point in the bid's push for diversity that the bid hopes will override the concerns of some who believe that 2022 is too soon for the U.S. to host a World Cup after doing so in 1994.
Also bidding to host the 2022 World Cup are Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea. Japan and South Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup and many believe that both stand no chance to be named hosts of the 2022 edition because it would be too soon for either to host a second time. Australia has a technically sound bid that appeases most of FIFA's requirements and being a sports mad country that has never hosted a World Cup before, their bid is considered one of the better ones with a legitimate chance of winning.
The real wild card in the bidding is Qatar, who don't meet many of the requirements set forth by FIFA, but have managed to remain a contender because of a well-played political game that may or may not include tactics related to the recent investigations into FIFA corruption. Revolutionary technology has made hosting a World Cup in the Middle Eastern desert a possibility, but some of that technology is untested and has raised eyebrows. The money behind the Qatari bid is unmatched though and completely new stadiums and venues would make for a sparkling tournament visually. Whatever the tactics, Qatar is a legitimate contender to host the 2022 World Cup and some bookies have even put them as the favorites to win Thursday's vote
After two years of bidding, the United States enters Thursday's voting as the favorite to land the 2022 World Cup. Gulati repeatedly emphasized the financial benefits of a World Cup in the U.S., which is to be expected considering that he is an economics professor at Columbia and the staggering numbers the bid has put forth.
Gulati stated that over 100 million people in the United States watched the 2010 World Cup, but they project that over 200 million would watch should the U.S. host in 2022. Those statistics were followed by the amount that the U.S. pays in television rights fees for the World Cup already, $212 million, and how much NBC pays for the rights to the Olympics, which is four times that amount. Gulati stated that with the continued growth of the game in the U.S., highlighted by another World Cup, the television rights fees could match that of the Olympics.
Instead of trying to hide the fact that they hosted the 1994 World Cup, the U.S. emphasized the 1994 event and its success. Donovan shared how attending a match in 1994 inspired him to be a professional player and how that tournament remains the highest attended World Cup ever. With an average stadium capacity of 76,000 put forth in the bid, the U.S. claims that they will break the attendance records they set in 1994 and set a new standard for successful World Cups.
The 2010 World Cup, hosted by South Africa, generated $3.4 billion, but with a projected average attendance of 5,000,000, increased rights fees and sponsorship revenue, Gulati projected record profits for FIFA from a U.S. World Cup.
In the end, Clinton closed the presentation with compliments for FIFA, the game of soccer and once again, an emphasis on U.S. diversity. The former President, who is the bid's Honorary Chairman, had this to say:
"The unifying power of this game to address the major challenges of the 21st-century world, with all of its interdependence, to reduce its inequalities and instabilities, to transform it into a place of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities is enormous. I believe the United States is perhaps in the best position to support you in fulfilling that mission."
Now, the United States will have to wait around with the other four bidders until Thursday morning, when the FIFA executive committee chooses the host for the 2022 World Cup, as well as the hosts for 2018. While some bookies have made Qatar the favorite, other bookies have slotted the U.S. as the favorite. That puts them in the same group as many writers and analysts who have pegged the U.S. as the clear favorite following two years of the bid process that will come down to 22 votes on Thursday morning.