SAO PAULO – FIFA is waiting on an investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won under much suspicion by Russia and Qatar. The FIFA process has dealt with corruption and bribery charges for years, and recent documents uncovered by the Sunday Times of London seemed like a smoking gun on Qatar.
Couple that with the government in Qatar acknowledging that some 1,000 migrant workers have already died during the construction phase, international anger directed at the country's use of the slave-like kafala employment system and the fact summer temperatures hover around 122 degrees and the Qatar Cup is under duress.
Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter has cast aspersions, after the fact, on it and wondered out loud if they'd have to move the World Cup from its traditional summer schedule to winter to fight off the heat – even though it would conflict with professional schedules.
So would FIFA really strip the bid from Qatar when the report is released later this summer? And would the United States, which along with Japan, South Korea and Australia, lost in the 2022 process be a possible alternative?
ESPN reported the United States was told to "be ready" if Qatar lost its hosting duties, although what "be ready" means is anyone's guess. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati denied the report to the New York Times.
Regardless, the U.S. is unlikely to host in 2022 even if FIFA is willing to dump Qatar despite the exposure of potential dirty laundry. Blatter himself has described the criticism of Qatar as racially motivated, an absurd charge but one that may show the thinking of the organization.
And even if FIFA went looking for a new host for 2022, it would be unlikely to just hand the Cup over to one nation without a new bidding process. "Be ready" might mean just be ready to try again.
The U.S. could face long odds. There would be political pressure to keep the Cup in the Asian Football Confederation, which includes Qatar. That would give Australia, South Korea and Japan an advantage.
Then there would be questions over whether the United States should even be involved with such a loathsome organization as FIFA, which generally forces one-sided contracts with host nations that bring tremendous costs but allow FIFA to keep all television, ticket and marketing revenue.
Still, if there was one nation capable of making it work, it would be the United States.
Many countries struggle with hosting costs because they have to build new stadiums, often state-of-the-art and opulent. The U.S. already had dozens of facilities built at world-class standards that are used primarily for NFL and college football.
Travel infrastructure improvements would be minimal. There is considerable experience at hosting big events. And while no one wants to minimize the magnitude of staging a World Cup, Gulati has previously bragged, "we could host a World Cup tomorrow."
He's right. The U.S. successfully held the event in 1994, still the best-attended World Cup ever and that was before the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998. So America produced the most attendance despite having fewer games. Meanwhile, soccer's popularity has grown exponentially in the ensuing two decades, including the success of Major League Soccer.
Still, the United States might not want to be involved in 2022. There is something un-American – right or wrong – about being the consolation prize.
Also, U.S. Soccer officials believe if the Cup goes to Russia and Qatar (or another Asian site) then the informal global rotation of the hosting might make America a clear favorite in 2026.
Australia might be the favorite, since Japan and South Korea combined to run the 2002 World Cup. It hasn't been to North America since 1994, and neither Canada nor Mexico are viable options any time soon.
As such, the U.S. could possibly be up against just an African or South American bid, which would have hosted in 2010 and 2014 to mixed results.
Depending on how this all plays out, the Americans might even be tempted to stand down in 2022 and allow another Asian country to host in an informal deal to gain Asian support for 2026. That's how this stuff works.
So the odds of getting it later, and on American terms, rather than sooner, as a second choice, might be preferable.
U.S. Soccer might not want to be ready after all.
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