Werner Fricker, then USSF president, toasts the USA being awarded the rights to host the 1994 World Cup on July 4, 1988. (Michael Lewis Photo)
Thirty years ago today, FIFA awarded the United States the 1994 World Cup. Here is the inside story and background on how the USA secured the bid.
This story was taken from the original edition of World Cup Soccer, which was published in 1994 written by Michael Lewis. It is used with permission.
It certainly was an innocuous and curious place to announce one’s intentions to host the world’s greatest sporting spectacle — in the lobby of a boys dormitory at Indiana Central University during the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis on July 30, 1982. But a sportswriter from the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle put the question to U.S. Soccer Federation president Gene Edwards: How much interest did the USSF have in hosting the World Cup?
While there were rumors of the U.S. putting in a bid to host the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, the federation actually had its sights set toward 1994. The USSF had filed an application to host the 1990 edition (which eventually was awarded to Italy in 1984).
“We did it to show an interest to host it at some time,” Edwards said. “We realize it goes back to Europe in 1990. I would say our chances in 1994 would be very good.”
Not surprisingly, Edwards’ statement did not exactly grab front-page headlines in the U.S. or around the globe because, let’s face it, 12 years is a long, long time to plan for something. In these quick-paced days of short attention spans, thanks to DVD’s the internet and virtual reality, 12 years could be construed as a generation or two.
In the months ahead, the USSF drifted off course from that plan just a bit because an opportunity to host the 1982 cup was dangled in front of the federation. Colombia, which was selected to organize the event when included 16 teams, dropped out in October 1982, after failing to overcome problems trying to find enough first-class stadiums for a tournament that was upgraded to 24 teams.
U.S. soccer officials wanted that World Cup badly because professional soccer was faltering and fading fast in the early eighties. The U.S.’s predominant professional league, North American Soccer League, was teetering toward extinction. After boasting as many as 24 teams in 1980 — sparked by the presence of Pele in the late seventies — the league had dwindled to 12 for 1982 with a rather bleak future staring at it.
A number of soccer officials thought the World Cup would give the league a boost and save the sport.
More important international soccer decision-makers, however, had other ideas.
The contenders and pretenders emerged, including Brazil, Mexico, U.S. and Canada.
The process turning into an embarrassing fiasco for the United States, which seemed to go out of its way to irritate FIFA virtually every step of the way.
At one time or another, the USSF insulted the soccer world’s governing body, demanding that the organization fly over an inspection team to look its stadiums, making ridiculous threats, wailing about every decision that FIFA ruled against it, claiming that an agreement between FIFA and Mexico was made in secret, and generally embarrassing itself.
“FIFA is run a bit like a country club,” said Clive Toye, the former New York Cosmos general manager who signed Pele in 1975. “They have to get to know you before you’re accepted. … If you’re going to join a club, you abide by the club’s rules. When you become president, you can change them. But you don’t change them by standing outside the door, kicking at it, and then spitting in the eye of the man who opens it.”
In other words, you don’t mess around with FIFA if you want to play international soccer. There might no other organization in the world that wields so much power over such a sphere of influence.
Based in Zurich, Switzerland — the ultimate country of neutrality — FIFA is one of the most powerful organizations — sports or otherwise — in the world.
“Violence, political and racial reasons have bothered or damaged other sports,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said when he was general secretary. “Since 1972, there have been problems in the Olympic Games. We have not had such problems in FIFA. There never has been a boycott.”
If FIFA was the United Nations, there would be no or few wars. All battles and arguments would be settled on the soccer field. If a country does not like a FIFA decision, it could quit the organization and sacrifice playing the sport on the international level. “We have power — that’s important; respect and power,” former FIFA press officer Guido Tognoni.
How much respect and power?
In 1973, the Soviet Union refused to play Chile in a World Cup qualifying match because of political reasons. The Soviets were fined $50,000 and Chile awarded a forfeit. Had this been the UN, the Soviets might have gotten away without paying their dues.
“Nobody must play football in FIFA,” Blatter said. “If they want to play association football, they must abide. It’s like you’re in a family. You respect the rules of the family or leave the family.”
Despite being a member since 1913, the U.S. sometimes felt like it was on the other side of the window looking in, and the Americans would do anything to become one of the boys.
So, it was rather surprising that the U.S. did not help itself one iota with a flimsy, 92-page bid with color photos and access routes to the stadium. The USSF did estimate a conservative ticket revenue of $42 million, more than twice what Spain took in 1982, according to Werner Fricker, then USSF vice president and World Cup committee chairman. It looked all nice, but FIFA wanted some substance with that style. There were no governmental guarantees that Mexico managed to get in on time.
“Sure we can blame FIFA,” said Guy DiVencenzo, then USSF treasurer and member of the organization’s World Cup executive committee. “Let’s face it, we blew it ourselves. . . . I think the sloppy handling of it helped make it easier for FIFA to say no. “The application we presented to FIFA on March 11  was frivolous, glossy, and transparent, and probably deserved the treatment it received. We proved that FIFA was correct in describing our application as ‘superficial’ when we sent a supplement on May 12. It was like taking a test in school, failing, and they asking the teacher if we could try again.”
FIFA, worrying about putting the cup in essentially was a non-soccer country, started to favor Mexico, which staged the event in 1970. Brazil? It dropped out because of severe financial problems. Canada never was taken very seriously (there was talks of the U.S. and Canada putting together a joint bid).
Edwards tried to put the fiasco into perspective. “In retrospect, what would have happened if we got it,” Edwards said after the rejection “We could have easily messed it up.”
In retrospect, it certainly appears it turned out for the best.
“FIFA is looking for us [to host the World Cup],” Edwards said. “Yes it is popular, but it has competition here [from other sports]. In other countries, it’s a way of life and a religion. Although we have the biggest stadiums and the best press, parking and medical facilities, there are none laid out just for soccer. There was a question of whether a baseball team would give up a month or six weeks during the middle of their season opener to soccer. They [FIFA] feel it’s a little premature at this time.
“Put everything aside, the pros and cons. On deadline, we did not include the government guarantees [of visas and foreign exchange, for example] and stadium guarantees. It did not meet a requirement. It had to be for everybody. Mexico did it.”
On May 20, 1983 in Stockholm, Sweden, FIFA announced Mexico as the home country to the 1986 World Cup. “Mexico is a real soccer country,” said Dr. Joao Havelange, FIFA president. “The United States and Canada are not ready for such a competition.”
Not only did the U.S. not get the opportunity to host the 1986 World Cup, it could not qualify, further solidifying FIFA’s reasoning.
So, not only did the U.S. lose out on hosting the World Cup or even qualify for it. First, the struggling NASL went belly up after the 1984 season. Ironically, the Americans were eliminated from the qualifying competition exactly a year to the day to the start of Mexico ’86 in a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in Torrance, Calif. on May 31, 1985 — before the final CONCACAF round.
But the seeds that the great Pele planted had started to sprout hundreds of thousands of children playing soccer in the most unlikely of places — suburbia. Finally, a substantial base was being established from which to build. But as organizers discovered the hard way, players did not necessarily mean fannies in the seats, but there was an audience from which to build that was not associated with its traditional ethnic roots (the number broke one million in 1984 and went to 2.2 million). However, it would take some time for those roots, despite how plentiful they were, to take hold.
In 1984 the U.S. hosted the Summer Olympics, which included soccer. And in perhaps the most ironic twist of Orwellian irony, soccer’s version of Big Brother — FIFA — was watching, and walked away rather pleased, not just with the quality of play, but rather the numbers.
Soccer, of all sports, led everyone in attendance as 1,421,627 fans — an average of 44,426 per match — showed up for 32 games. Track and field was next at 1,129,463. Total attendance was 5,797,923,
Because the tournament was so encompassing — 16 teams — for one stadium or area, even the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. could not hold all of the teams and matches. So, the tournament branched out — to Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. and to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. under the auspices of the soccer commissioner — Los Angeles attorney Alan I. Rothenberg.
While the crowds did not break any records on the east — they were at or close to capacity level — an amazing story unfolded some 3,000 miles to the west. The tone was set early. In its July 29 opener at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, the U.S. won its first Olympic match in 60 years, defeating Costa Rica, 3-0, as 78,265 curious souls watched. The tone was set early. A crowd of 63,624 watched the U.S. drop a 1-0 decision to Italy at the Rose Bowl on July 31. A day later, Brazil edged West Germany, 2-1, before 75,249 at Stanford.
The U.S. did not get out of the opening round, yet attendance continued to rise or be impressive. For instance, in the semifinals, France defeated Yugoslavia, 4-2, before 97,451 at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 6, two days before Brazil downed Italy, 2-1, before “only” 83,642 at Stanford.
There still was room for growth. On Aug. 10, a consolation match — a rather meaningless affair in soccer history, although a bronze medal was at stake — attracted an incredible 100,374 at the Rose Bowl as Yugoslavia edged Italy, 2-1. That was a hard act to follow, but France and Brazil topped that in a 2-0 gold-medal triumph for the French as 101,799 jammed into the Rose Bowl for that encounter.
Perhaps it was the Olympics or the international lure. The bottom line was that people watched the matches, and FIFA took notice.
“FIFA and the world of sports were equally surprised: The Olympic Football Tournament surpassed the keenest hopes,” Blatter wrote in his organization’s official report of the Summer Games.
He was not alone. “All in all, Pasadena was a tremendous success for FIFA, of which they can be justifiably proud, and certainly augurs well for the future of association football in the United States,” International Olympic Committee member Dr. Kevin O’Flanagan reported in the same publication. “One evening well into the competition, I saw president Havelange standing alone . . . with a satisfied smile on his face. It seemed to me he was glowing with inward pride at the success he saw all around him.”
Suddenly, the U.S.’s stock as an international organizer of soccer events was on the rise. So were its World Cup aspirations. Because the 1990 cup was scheduled to return to Europe in 1990, hosting that tourney was out of the question, but 1994 was certainly a viable possibility.
In one sense, the U.S.’s chances did not look very promising. There was no true coast-to-coast pro league. On the international level, the U.S. continued to struggle against the medium powers; forget about the superpowers.
Buoyed by optimism, the U.S., along with Brazil, Chile and Morocco threw its hat into the World Cup ring for a chance to stage the 1994 showcase. The Americans learned from their mistakes. World Cup USA 1994, a non-profit subsidiary of the U.S. Soccer Federation, was formed to prepare the bid, and eventually organize the cup.
Instead of a frivolous application, World Cup USA 1994 handed in a 381-page document that cost $500,000 to compile to FIFA — “phone books” — Fricker, who then was now federation president, liked to say.
Those phone books encompassed a tremendous amount of documents of federal government guarantees, including the government allowing players, coaches and representatives of hostile countries such as Iran and Iraq to obtain visas for the tournament, a selection of 18 stadiums, transportation system (road, train and plane routes and maps), tickets and media and marketing.
“There is a strong desire by FIFA and most people to have the World Cup come to the United States,” Fricker said after the application was completed. “A lot of people see the United States as a white spot on the map of soccer in the world . . . They [FIFA] would very much like to see development in soccer in the United States and to see it grow in a very big way.”
Toye, the New York/New Jersey host chairman for World Cup USA 1994, was privy to both the 1986 and 1994 bids. “The big thing this time is manners, superb, minute detail, which FIFA wants,” he said. “It’s thicker than Tolstoi’s War and Peace and will put you asleep a lot faster. It’s been approached with greater dignity than arrogance. The U.S. made itself contenders by the professional and dignity of its approach.”
As it turned out, of the 18 stadiums listed in the application, only five are among the nine venues for USA ’94 — RFK Stadium (55,000), Washington, D.C., Soldier Field (66,260) in Chicago, Cotton Bowl (72,000), Dallas, Texas, Rose Bowl (103,553), Pasadena, Calif. and the Citrus Bowl (50,843) in Orlando, Fla.
The others? In the Northeast Region, there was JFK Stadium (90,000) and Franklin Field (61,000) in Philadelphia, Palmer Stadium (45,000) in Princeton, N.J. and the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (30,000) in Annapolis, Md. In the Southeast Region: Orange Bowl (75,355) in Miami, Fla., Joe Robbie Stadium (74,990) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Tampa Stadium (74,317) in Tampa Fla. In the Midwest Region: Arrowhead Stadium (78,065, artificial turf) in Kansas City, Mo., Cotton Bowl (72,000) in Dallas, Texas, and Minnesota Sports Stadium, Blaine, Minn. (45,000, under construction; proposed 1994 capacity: 90,000) in Blaine, Minn. And in the West Region: Coliseum (92,516) in Los Angeles, Calif., Husky Stadium (72,484) in Seattle, Wash., Parker Stadium (Corvallis, Ore. (40,593) in Corvallis, Ore., and Sam Boyd Silver Bowl (30,000) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The stadium criteria included grass field, which had to be 115 by 75 yards. The capacities varied, from 30,000-40,000 for opening group matches to 60,000-80,000 for the opening match, semifinals and finals.
On Sept. 30, three U.S. representatives — USSF treasurer Paul Stiehl, who later would become director of World Cup USA, the first of several leaders of that organization, Rey Post Jr. of Eddie Mahe Jr. and Associates (which included the Republican National Committee among its clients), which prepared the application, and former Cosmos and NASL public relations director Jim Trecker, who was brought in as a part-time public relations director, flew to FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland to present the application to FIFA. The U.S. bid, along with its rivals, were given to the 27-member World Committee of FIFA, which reviewed them.
The race for the World Cup was underway.
Over the ensuing months, World Cup USA and the federation would be in constant communication with FIFA, making sure every i was dotted at least once and every t crossed.
In December 1987, each of the candidates made a verbal presentation at the qualifying draw for the 1990 World Cup in Italy (the United States presented a video). FIFA next sent a delegation to each of the remaining three countries to inspect stadium sites and facilities (the U.S. was inspected from April 10-18, 1988).
In fact, Havelange met with president Reagan in late 1987 in what was called a hopeful summit. Reagan threw his support behind the bid, and Havelange, who hadn’t had much nice things to say about U.S. soccer in general, and the USSF in particular, through the years, offered some encouraging words.
“Holding the championship in this country would clearly be a way of promoting the sport more effectively in this part of the globe,” he said.
As for the U.S. rivals, Chile dropped out early, saying it took a chance to ensure South American representation had Brazil decided not to pursue hosting the cup.
But Brazil had serious problems of its own. Despite its long, storied history in soccer, the country of Pele’s birth and three world championship teams had experienced a seemingly endless list of problems in international soccer in 1987 and 1988. The Brazilian Soccer Federation reportedly was disorganized and out of touch with contemporary sport that 13 leading teams had threatened to secede from the association and start its own playoffs before a compromise was reached.
On the global level, the Brazilian national teams had accomplished very little to distinguish themselves in recent years. At the Under-16 World Cup in Canada during the summer of 1987, Brazil was eliminated in the opening round without scoring a goal — a humiliating setback — and was ousted in the first round of Copa America, the South American championships by Chile, not exactly a world soccer power.
Then there was the economical aspect. Brazil had not been in the best of financial shape, owing U.S. banks in the neighborhood of $10 billion that many institutions feared that they would near see. And, Brazil’s stadiums were is disrepair and would cost millions of dollar to rebuild or renovate, according to a FIFA source. Building new structures was out of the question, concerning the country’s financial crisis.
And then there was the bid.
The formal written portion was sloppy and handwritten in some cases. Brazilian officials also were late arrivals for the 1990 World Cup qualifying draw and that December gathering. And with FIFA, neatness and attendance do count.
So do having enough stadiums. While FIFA took Morocco’s bid seriously, the emerging soccer country — it became the first Third World and African nation to win its group and qualify for the second round of the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 — had only one stadium that met FIFA’s standards, a source said. Morocco probably is years away — 2006 at the earliest — before it receives the nod.
So, not surprisingly, there was a good sense things were going the Americans’ way as the bid gained support throughout the world.
“It is important for football to have the World Cup in the United States,” said Pele, a Brazilian. “I love Brazil. Everybody knows that Brazil is in a bad financial situation. In the United States, it would be good for the game because it would change in the World Cup. We played in 1970 in Mexico, but soccer doesn’t change a thing. If there is a World Cup in Brazil, it doesn’t change anything. It [the United States] is something new.”
Even FIFA gave some hints. “We cannot all the time choose a football country — soccer country, but we have to promote the game and bring soccer to this country,” FIFA technical director Walter Gagg said. “And I think bringing soccer to this country, I think the enthusiasm will come at the same time.”
Peter Vellapan, a member of FIFA’s World Cup committee, agreed. “I think the time is now right to bring the U.S. soccer group under the wings of FIFA,” he said. “I know not know whether it is wise to keep them away until 1998 by which time people get frustrated and are not in the limelight of things and so on.”
Originally, the day of decision was set for June 30. But FIFA on March 3 changed it to July 4, U.S. Independence Day, making some soccer observers feel the U.S. was a shoo-in.
The U.S. hardly was a shoo-in. While its bid was solid, there were a number of concerns and minuses. There was a question of whether grass could be placed over the artificial turf football fields. There was no strong, national pro league, and could the USSF find a network or networks, possibly a cable concern, to originate a strong signal for not only the games in the states, but for the rest of the world.
With all that in mind, the U.S., Brazil and Morocco had one last meeting with the FIFA Executive Committee at the Movenpick Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland the morning of July 4, 1988.
Finally, at 1:21 p.m. that day — 7:21 a.m. ET — FIFA executive vice president Harry Cavan announced that the U.S. would host the World Cup.
The final tally of the vote, through a secret, card ballot was the U.S. 10, Morocco seven and Brazil two. Most of the U.S. support came from the officials from Europe and CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Federations), of which the U.S. is a member.
Morocco received six votes from the African and Asian members of the committee, and one from Europe. Brazil received two votes from its South American colleagues. Two Brazilians on the committee — Havelange and Abilio D’Almedia — declined to vote so there would be no conflict of interest.
Cavan, who chaired the executive committee meeting, tried to measure the World Cup’s impact on soccer in the U.S. “I think obviously it will have a tremendous development exercise on United States football,” he said.
In fact, progress already might have taken place. “I noticed this morning, if I am allowed to repeat something, I noticed the delegation of the United States ued the word football,” he said. “I was quite happy about that because I have for years been trying to get them to do it.”
Added Fricker: “We now have the timetable set for us. We do not have the privilege to say, ‘We’ll do it somebody.’ We must do it now.’ ”
A number of hours later, several members of the U.S. delegation gathered together in the lobby of the Zurich Hilton. Champagne was passed around, and Fricker lifted his glass in a toast.
“It was very nice to work with a wonderful group of people and thanks for all your support from the people back home,” Fricker said.
The real hard work was just only beginning.