Give Trump credit for USA get­ting World Cup, Olympics

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Martin Rogers Colum­nist

MOSCOW – This will be mu­sic to the ears of his sup­port­ers and tor­tur­ous read­ing for those who op­pose him, but since Novem­ber 2016 Don­ald Trump is 1-0 in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and 2-0 in the United States land­ing global sports events.

Vic­tory for the United Bid, com­prised of the U.S., Mex­ico and Canada, on Wed­nes­day means the 2026 World Cup will head to North Amer­ica and, in a stun­ning re­ver­sal after months of spec- ula­tion as to how Trump might hurt the vote, it ul­ti­mately turned out he helped win it.

Since March, Trump pro­vided bid lead­ers with three let­ters ad­dressed to FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino guar­an­tee­ing that no in­com­ing im­mi­gra­tion crack­downs would im­pact play­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors or fans com­ing to the U.S. for the World Cup, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times.

It was one part of ex­ten­sive but largely un­der-the-radar govern­ment sup­port for the bid, and the let­ters took away the pri­mary fear in the minds of FIFA feder-

ation mem­bers that could have per­suaded them to vote for Morocco.

Wed­nes­day’s vote fol­lows Los An­ge­les gain­ing the right to stage the 2028 Sum­mer Olympics, a cam­paign backed by Trump and in which L.A. bid lead­ers were highly com­pli­men­tary of the pres­i­dent’s in­volve­ment.

So many peo­ple, this reporter in­cluded, were off base in pre­dict­ing how Trump’s bom­bas­tic ways and con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies would af­fect things.

Few were more wrong than for­mer U.S. Soccer pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati. He said be­fore Pres­i­dent Obama was elected in 2008 that a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent would give a U.S. World Cup bid the great­est chance of suc­cess. He then hinted in the sum­mer of 2016 that Trump’s then-un­likely tilt at the pres­i­dency would be a detri­men­tal fac­tor, adding that a joint bid in­volv­ing Mex­ico was likely a non-starter un­less “Sec­re­tary Clin­ton was in the White House.”

Gu­lati is gone as pres­i­dent and was a pe­riph­eral mem­ber of the bid by the end, while Trump, who has lit­tle his­tory of show­ing any real knowl­edge or in­ter­est in soccer, was left to claim many of the late plau­dits.

As this all re­lates to sports, score­cards are ap­pro­pri­ate. And as much as Obama had charisma that stretched far be­yond Amer­i­can bor­ders, that never trans­lated into votes for big ath­letic ex­trav­a­gan­zas. On that front it’s Trump 2, Obama 0.

It wasn’t for a lack of ef­fort on Obama’s part ei­ther. Obama went to bat hard for his home­town of Chicago as it tried to stage the 2016 Olympics. He held an event on the White House lawn and flew to Copenhagen in an at­tempt to sway the vote, but the Windy City came last out of four can­di­dates as the vot­ers opted for Rio de Janeiro.

Obama came out strongly for the U.S. World Cup cam­paign for 2018 and 2022 as well, get­ting chummy with Sepp Blat­ter, writ­ing let­ters to and meet­ing with the soccer politi­cian, who later was ex­posed as a master crook. Russia got 2018 when it was de­cided that event would go to a Euro­pean can­di­date, and Qatar came from nowhere to steal away 2022, leav­ing Obama to re­ceive a con­so­la­tion phone call from Blat­ter in­form­ing him of the bad news and later quip­ping to re­porters that FIFA had “made the wrong de­ci­sion.”

But it is no ac­ci­dent that Trump’s U.S. has got­ten over the line twice, that Putin will be on pa­rade at Thurs­day’s open­ing cer­e­mony and that China and Brazil have joined the club of be­ing awarded mul­ti­ple world­wide events in the 20th cen­tury.

Sport­ing bu­reau­crats like their politi­cians to be — how can this be put kindly? — do­ers rather than talk­ers. Putin was go­ing to make sure the Sochi Olympics got built and fin­ished and ready for dis­play, even if it meant spend­ing $50 bil­lion and cut­ting more cor­ners than a cheat­ing speed­skater.

China was go­ing to make Bei­jing a suc­cess in 2008 no mat­ter how high the hu­man or fi­nan­cial cost. To those who vote on these things, Dar­fur didn’t mat­ter enough, Chech­nya didn’t mat­ter enough, Dilma Rous­eff ’s crooked ways and the wall and Colin Kaeper­nick didn’t mat­ter enough ei­ther.

As much as Trump de­trac­tors might want his in­volve­ment to be in­ci­den­tal to the vic­tory, it isn’t.

There were many vot­ers look­ing for any rea­son to not give their pick to the United Bid. Many within FIFA were still an­gry that it was the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment that brought down the rot­ting house of cards that fes­tered un­der Blat­ter’s ugly rule.

Many del­e­gates be­lieved that CONCACAF, as a small and com­pet­i­tively weak con­fed­er­a­tion with only three coun­tries pos­sess­ing even close to the ca­pa­bil­ity to stage a World Cup, should only host every 50 years or so.

What­ever role Trump played, it won’t soften the ap­proach of his crit­ics, and nei­ther should it. There are more than enough holes in his poli­cies to poke at and surely in his char­ac­ter too.

But as odd, coun­ter­in­tu­itive and sur­pris­ing it is to write, if you want big sports events to come to Amer­ica, then hav­ing Trump in the White House is no im­ped­i­ment.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE

Pres­i­dent Trump has helped the USA land the 2026 World Cup and the ’28 Olympics.

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