FIFA, soc­cer could see big benefits from US World Cup in 2026: Gu­lati

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY GREG BEACHAM

U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati be­lieves his sport could re­ceive a big do­mes­tic boost from host­ing the World Cup in 2026.

He also thinks scan­dal-plagued FIFA would ben­e­fit im­mensely from putting its big­gest show back on stead­ier ground.

“It’s prob­a­bly now at least as im­por­tant for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to be in the United States as it is for the United States, in terms of host­ing the World Cup,” Gu­lati said Thurs­day. “That’s my hon­est be­lief. It’s as im­por­tant for the global game and ev­ery­thing we’ve been talk­ing about to­day, and keep­ing that brand, whether it’s the brand of four let­ters or the brand of World Cup, where we would all like it to be.”

Gu­lati, a mem­ber of FIFA’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, made his re­marks dur­ing a dis­cus­sion about the growth of soc­cer at the IMG World Congress of Sports in down­town Los An­ge­les. He sat on a panel with Lan­don Dono­van, Abby Wam­bach and FIFA Direc­tor of Mar­ket­ing Thierry Weil.

Although Gu­lati thinks it’s “in­evitable” that the U.S. will host an­other World Cup at some point, his or­ga­ni­za­tion is “still re­view­ing what the pro­ce­dures are” for sub­mit­ting a bid for the 2026 event. The Amer­i­cans emerged from the 2022 bid­ding process with dis­ap­point­ment af­ter the World Cup was awarded to tiny, oil-rich Qatar, a choice that still shocks much of the world.

The 2026 host is ex­pected to be cho­sen in 2017, although much could change within FIFA if long- serv­ing Pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter is ousted in an elec­tion in May.

Weil echoed Gu­lati’s faith in the United States’ abil­ity to stage a su­pe­rior World Cup.

FIFA has re­ceived wide­spread crit­i­cism from nu­mer­ous cor­ners of pol­i­tics and sports for putting the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia and award­ing the 2022 event to Qatar. Rus­sia has a strug­gling econ­omy, anti-gay laws and se­ri­ous racism con­cerns, while hu­man rights abuses in the build­ing of Qatar’s sta­di­ums have at­tracted in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

Mean­while, the CON­CA­CAF re­gion hasn’t staged a World Cup since 1994, when the U.S. hosted it. The game ex­pe­ri­enced a sub­se­quent boom in North Amer­ica with the cre­ation of Ma­jor League Soc­cer.

Af­ter two decades of growth, soc­cer now ranks among young North Amer­i­cans’ fa­vorite sports by nearly any mea­sure. The Women’s World Cup was held in the U.S. in 1999 and won by the Amer­i­cans. Canada will host the event in June.

Gu­lati said that boom was only “the first half” of soc­cer’s U.S. rise.

Sev­eral fac­tors could be work­ing in the United States’ fa­vor in the 2026 com­pe­ti­tion.

Fox re­cently was sold the North Amer­i­can broad­cast rights to the 2026 World Cup with­out a bid­ding process, ap­par­ently to avert any legal ac­tion from the broad­cast gi­ant when the Qatar World Cup is of­fi­cially shifted from June and July to Novem­ber and De­cem­ber of 2022.

The method of FIFA’s de­ci­sion per­plexed and en­raged many ob­servers within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Prince Ali bin al-Hus­sein, the prom­i­nent FIFA can­di­date at­tempt­ing to un­seat Blat­ter, be­lieves the rights should have been sub­ject to com­pe­ti­tion.

Yet Prince Ali is among the FIFA of­fi­cials who sup­port mov­ing the com­pe­ti­tion among the con­ti­nents, which the­o­ret­i­cally would put an Amer­i­can bid at the front of the line.

Un­til then, FIFA has plenty of prob­lems with its two up­com­ing choices.

Rus­sia’s 2018 World Cup bid re­port­edly trimmed its bud­get by four per­cent this week, elim­i­nat­ing some of its plans for luxury ho­tels and other ameni­ties on the heels of its mas­sive Sochi Olympics bid. Rus­sia’s econ­omy has strug­gled in re­cent months due to the low price of oil, but Weil said FIFA isn’t wor­ried by the cut­backs.

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