US Bid Committee confident ahead of FIFA vote
Last week, FIFA inspectors completed their visit to Qatar, the final stop on a globe-spanning tour of the nine bidders vying to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
The Middle East nation's chances took a hit when Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of the inspection team, said the bid presented "a number of logistical challenges," but a surprise appearance by Zinedine Zidane impressed FIFA. The French legend passionately argued that it was time for a nation in the region to host the World Cup.
The oil-rich country and Australia are seen as the United States' primary competition to host the '22 tournament. Japan and South Korea are also in the running, while five European bids were submitted for both World Cups.
It's widely presumed that FIFA's executive committee will award the '18 event to a European host, eliminating them all from contention four years later.
David Downs, executive director of the US' efforts, continues to believe the US has a great shot to win one of the two votes held on December 2.
"Our confidence level remains the same following the conclusion of our FIFA inspection visit, primarily because we expected our facilities (arguably one of our bid's strongest features) to be well-received, and indeed they were," he told MLSsoccer.com via email.
Downs and his staff kept tabs on the FIFA inspectors' world tour.
"Because we were the eighth of nine bidders to be visited by FIFA, we did pay close attention to reports of the earlier visits," he wrote. "But we were not so much looking at the evaluations of each bidder's facilities but instead how certain aspects of their tours were handled from a logistics and protocol perspective."
"We also asked FIFA for feedback on what to do and not to do, as well as appropriate timings for individual segments of our visit (e.g. Is 75 minutes enough time to visit an 80,000-seat match stadium?)."
With the visits complete, it's time to begin lobbying for votes. As the sole bidder from CONCACAF, the Americans already have an advantage as the federation pledged its three votes to the US effort. To win the World Cup bid, a country needs 13 of the 24 FIFA committee members to support its cause.
During FIFA's visit, Downs and the rest of the Red, White and Blue contingent learned they need to work at convincing voters how far the game has come in the US.
"One of their observations, although not really a formal part of their evaluation of our facilities, was that there is still a perception beyond our borders that the sport did not change greatly in the United States as a result of the 1994 World Cup,” Downs said. “As you know, nothing could be further from the truth.
"But clearly we have to do a better job explaining those things, and also how those enormous gains benefit the sport throughout the CONCACAF region and even the rest of the world," he added. "We strongly believe a World Cup here in 2018 or 2022 would drive the global soccer economy to even greater heights, but we must convince others of that."
Although there are rumors that the Americans will drop out of the '18 running -- fueled in part by a recent statement from England World Cup bid president David Dein that "it won't be long before the United States will withdraw from 2018, leaving themselves a run on 2022" -- Downs says the US will continue pushing for both tournaments.
"That was merely David Dein's opinion and not reflective of any discussions we had with him," Downs wrote.
Only 65 days remain until it all goes down.