By Michael Lewis
ZURICH, Switzerland — It should have been a send-off with a bang with one of the great orators of the past century. Instead, it ended with a whimper.
With President Clinton finishing the United States’ final argument in its attempt to convince FIFA that it should host the 2022 World Cup, it seemed the Americans were position to gain some traction with the organization’s Executive Committee.
Instead, Clinton rambled on too much and even went a good five minutes beyond the 30-minute limit each candidate was given on Wednesday. The four other candidates — Australia, Japan, Korea and Qatar — hit their marks as they went the full 30 minutes or used less time.
Not the way you necessarily want to make an impression on the 22 men who will decide the U.S.’s fate when they vote on Thursday.
Early on, the U.S. already had a glitch when Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman got ahead of himself during his speech when he noticed the topic of his subject jumped.
“Sorry, missed a page,” he said, before getting on track.
Clinton’s speech, while at times impassioned, went off script as he began talking about his foundation, which has done some great charitable work around the world in the past decade and some topics that were not necessary directly related to the World Cup.
Clinton, who had a speaking engagement in Greensboro, N.C. Tuesday night, flew into Zurich on Wednesday so he missed a rehearsal earlier this week. But that still should not be an excuse for what transpired.
Whether that will influence the FIFA Executive Committee, remains to be seen. It certainly didn’t help matters.
While some people might not make a big deal about it, some of the international journalists at the media center at Zurich Messe rolled their eyes and shook their heads as Clinton’s appeal went deeper into stoppage time, while others asked him to stop.
At the beginning of his speech, Clinton was his usual suave self, complimenting the U.S.’s rivals bids. “As a competitor, I’m sorry to say, I found them all persuasive,” he said.
No new ground was broken during the presentation, which also featured Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer president and chairman of the USA Bid Committee, U.S. National Team and L.A. Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan and a video message by President Obama, who could not attend.
“Ours has always been a nation of great diversity and great promise,” Obama said. “Anything is possible.”
The Americans stressed 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,” 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,” Clinton 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.”
Gulati spoke about how TV revenue and sponsorship has grown substantially in the U.S. in the past two decades.