By Michael Lewis
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 Democrat and Chronicle put the question to U.S. Soccer Federation president Gene Edwards: How much interest did the federation have in hosting the World Cup?
While there were rumors at the time 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 cell phones, 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.
As well all know, the bid for 1982 was an absolute failure and an embarrassment for the USSF.
But looking back, hey, I had a scoop and I didn’t realize I had one. I wrote about Edwards’ remarks in a Sunday soccer column after I returned to Rochester and used it in my World Cup Soccer, 1994 edition, book.
The Gannett News Service had assigned me to cover the NSF, which eventually was renamed the Olympic Festival. It certainly was an eye-opener for me and a lot of “fun,” getting to cover sports that I normally wouldn’t do.
That included fencing, the brother and sister ice-skating team of Wayne and Natalie Seybold, who competed at the 1988 Olympics, a bike race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Sunday would have been the running of the Indianapolis 500 if it hadn’t been for the COVID-19 pandemic), gymnastics, a marathon race and watching and writing about Carl Lewis completing the second longest long jump in history at the time to Bob Beamon.
One one Saturday of the competition, I wound up covering, four, that’s right, four events at as many venues: marathon in the morning, track and field in the afternoon and finally Lewis (no relation) at night. I wrote stories for GNS and roundups for the Democrat and Chronicle. It was an exhausting and rewarding day and experience.