By Michael Lewis
ZURICH, Switzerland — A cartoon kangaroo stealing the World Cup, a dream for reunification of two countries, the promise of a modern World Cup played in comfortable conditions in the summer heat and not over long distances, the promise of a new technology and a long and sometimes rambling speech by a former President of the United States were among the highlights of Wednesday’s 11th-hour bids by the five candidates who want to host the 2022 World Cup.
It remains to be seen if the final says of the five candidates will be able to sway the decision of FIFA’s 22-member Executive Committee, which will decide the host of the 2002 competition on Thursday.
Here’s a quick look at the highlights of the five presentations:
A cartoon dominated the Australians presentation, which included supermodel Elle Macpherson.
A kangaroo stole the World Cup trophy from FIFA’s new headquarters here and went on a world-wide chase that ended up in Australia. He was pursued by a helmeted man dressed in black on a motorcycle. After hopping through Sydney and Melbourne and with Olympic gold-medal winner Cathey Freeman, the man in black caught up to the kangaroo. He revealed himself to be actor Paul Hogan of Crocordile Dundee fame who said, “Hand it over. You’ve had your fun. I’m taking it back to FIFA.”
On the reality side of things, Frank Lowry, the Football Federation Australia chairman, was enthusiastic.
“I know a good investment when I see one,” he said, adding that an Australian World Cup would be “a fantastic opportunity for the future of the game.
“Australia is the most multi-cultured society in the world. It will feel like a home team for every country. . . . We can and we will deliver a World Cup that will exceed all expectations.”
As it turns out, Australia was first up among the 2022 candidates. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said, “I would like to congratulate you for a wonderful presentation.”
For what it was worth, Blatter did not come close to praising any of the four other presentations.
If you thought sports and politics don’t mix, then you should have listened to Korea’s final presentation.
When members of the Korean delegation weren’t praising the super technology and infrastructure, they were looking toward the future of a reunification between South and North Korea.
Hong Koo Lee, a former Korean prime minister and a member of the country’s bid committee, said he wanted the World Cup “to serve as a gateway for a new era for a unified Korea and peaceful Asia.”
Prime Minister Hwang Sik Kim, who was supposed to be a part of the delegation that spoke in front of the FIFA Executive Committee, had to pull out, sending “his regrets because of pressuring conditions in Korea,” according to a member of the delegation. He was referring to the recent increased tensions between North and South Korea in wake of the former bombing the latter’s island.
Dr. Moon Joon Chung, the Korean Football Association honorary president, called it “the darkness before the dawn.”
Lee remembered when a unified Korean team competed at the Under-20 World Cup in 1991.
“I see the power and possibly of football to unite us despite our differences and open the way for a bright future,” he said.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and West and East Germany, a democratic and Communist state, respectively, unified, Lee said Koreans watched in awe.
“Nobody can blame the Koreans to be envious,” he said.
The Middle Eastern country had the most radical concepts, which included the entire competition taking place within a 40-mile radius. Qatar would build nine stadiums, whose modular parts — some 170,000 — would be dissembled after the tournament to be used as stadia for developing soccer countries.
“We are offering FIFA an historic opportunity expand the frontiers of the World Cup,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, the chairman of the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee.
One of the frontiers is playing a World Cup in a hot country. But Al-Thani said that should not be a problem, thanks to modern technology.
The stadiums will be open air and air-conditioned at about 80 degrees. They energy will be solar-powered and 100 percent carbon neutral, he added.
“Heat will not be an issue,” he said.
Former MetroStars and U.S. national team coach Bora Milutinovic popped up in a video. Exhorting a group of players, Bora said “It is most important to have . . .”
“Heart!” they answered.
Milutinovic also spoke during the presentation. “The conditions will be [good enough] for players to play at a wonderful level,” he said.
The presentation ended with a video with a build-up to Thursday’s announcement with a fictional news broadcast.
“We just heard the decision is in,” a woman broadcaster said. “The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in . . .”
No new ground was broken in the Americans’ 35-minute segment, which five minutes over the allotted 30 minutes, thanks to President Clinton’s long and sometimes rambling speech at the end.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, the chairman of the USA Bid Committee, spoke about how TV revenue and sponsorship has grown substantially in the U.S. in the past two decades and that a record five million in attendance in 2026 will give FIFA even more money “to invest in the game worldwide.” Gulati also brought up the fact that the Americans were in the mid-point of a 50-year plan that started in 1984 with the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
The Americans stressed its well-known diversity, how foreign teams would enjoy home-field advantage in the U.S., and that a World Cup would fill FIFA’s coffers, thanks to record attendance and profits.
“We are now the most diverse nation on earth,” actor Morgan Freeman said. “And our patchwork heritage is our greatest strength.”
“It’s important that all the teams who come to any World Cup venue feel that they, too, are playing at home, not just for people watching on television,” he said. “I tell everyone maybe America’s best claim to this World Cup is that we have the only nation you can put the World Cup that can guarantee no matter who makes the final, we can fill a stadium with home-nation rooters.”
Landon Donovan’s 11th-hour goal against Algeria, which boosted the U.S. into the second round at the South Africa World Cup last summer, remembered when he, as a 12-year-old, fell in love with WC at USA ’94.
“After watching Argentina and Romania, a dream was born in me,” he said.
Some 100 million Americans watched the World Cup this past summer as Gulati predicted that amount would double if the U.S. hosted the 2022 competition.
“The World Cup captivated our country,” Donovan said. “Something very special happened this summer.”
Japanese officials highlighted children and the future of the sport in its opening segments before telling the Executive Committee that the future is now for soccer and FIFA. FIFA World Cup for the next generation, they said.
In fact, Japan touted the fact that they will have screens at 400 stadiums around the world, which includes Maracana and Wembley, which will display the World Cup in life-size 3D and HD form.
SONY chairman and CEO Howard Stringer said the technology, called Full Court 3-D Vision, will work.
“This is not science fiction,” he said. “In 2022, this will be science fact. Twelve years is a long time in technology.”
He added, “You have the courage to be pioneers. I believe this is an extraordinary opportunity not only for Japan, but for FIFA.”