When Qatar was named the host of the 2022 World Cup. (Dec. 1, 2010)
Third part of a four-part series
By Michael Lewis
ZURICH, Switzerland — Well, it’s wait ’til 2026 or beyond.
In a stunning blow, the United States won’t be hosting the 2022 World Cup.
Instead, tiny Qatar, a country that had never qualified for the tournament, was named the winner of the sweepstakes by the 22-member FIFA Executive Committee on Thursday.
Russia also was declared winner to host the 2018 World Cup, beating Spain/Portugal, Netherlands/Belgium and England.
The U.S. lost on the fourth and final ballot. Qatar, which has never qualified for a World Cup, accrued 14 votes, the U.S. eight.
That news was devastating for U.S. Soccer, the USA Bid Committee and MLS, which had hoped by hosting what is billed the greatest show on earth for the second time would further boost the game at home. The Americans had staged an extremely successful World Cup in 1994 and were cautiously optimistic they could become a host for the second time in 28 years.
“We’re disappointed,” U.S. Soccer president and USA Bid Committee chairman Sunil Gulati said at the Messe Zurich. “There’s no way to get around that. It’s a very harsh disappointment. We worked very hard. The country’s been behind us in a way frankly we haven’t seen.”
Not surprisingly, the rest of the American delegation walked away shaking their heads.
“It’s very disappointing,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “I’m a bit shocked. We ran a great campaign. We felt very good about it. All of the people we met throughout the last two years including the last two days told us we were in pretty good shape.”
“Total bummer,” U.S. international and L.A. Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan said on twitter “Congrats to R/Q — You could tell how much it meant to them. Over country deserves another World Cup.
The earliest the U.S. could host a World Cup would be 2026 and that vote probably wouldn’t happen for at least eight years.
On Thursday, Gulati, not surprisingly, was not ready to commit.
Before the announcement, Gulati spoke to Danny Jordaan, the head of the South African Organizing Committee who led not one, but two bid efforts, one unsuccessful (2006), the other successful (2010).
Gulati said he told Jordaan, “Maybe I should have told the FIFA Executive Committee yesterday that I’m not half the man that Danny is because I can only do this once.’ He did it twice and I give him a lot of credit for having the stamina to do that. It’s a tough process.”
Asked if he would have done anything differently, Gulati said of course he would. He has asked former U.S. national coach Bruce Arena and current coach Bob Bradley the same question after World Cups.
“I’m always shocked when someone says I wouldn’t do anything differently,” he said. “Unless you won the World Cup or in this case, won the right to host the World Cup, it goes through our mind. Of course you think about everything. Could I sit here today and say, ‘These are the seven things that we would do differently?’ The answer is no. I think we did everything we could.
“But am I going over the next few days, what else could we have done? Of course. Did we do everything perfectly? Of course not. I think we tried to do everything we could and have a campaign that we’re proud of. But should it have been two hours of sleep instead of three? Should it have been one more ad? Should we have gotten an extra 100,000 petitions? Should we have had three governors here? Should we have had Pele endorse it? We go through all of those thoughts.”
Gulati wasn’t finished.
“We submitted a bid that was ranked at the top along with a couple of others,” he said. “An economic study that has been written about that puts us pretty clearly at the top in 2022. President Clinton came in to help. We’ve got a country with 320 million people with a great soccer story. So that was our bid. We told our story well.”
The highlight of Qatar’s bid was that they will build all-new stadiums in the country of only 1.6 million people, then dismantle them and donate them to poorer countries around the world.
So Qatar will become the smallest country to host a World Cup with a population of 1.6 million. In fact, Qatar, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has never qualified for the greatest show on earth.
To put the Middle Eastern country’s triumph into proper perspective, more youth (3.2 million) play soccer than its entire population.
Qatar is best known for its oil and natural gas.
“I am surprised and I’m sure most of America is surprised,” Garber said. “I’m disappointed and most of America is disappointed. It’s not just soccer fans who took a little shot in the head today. I think it’s our entire country, which could have shown the world how passionate we are about the global game and how a diverse country we are to support the most diverse sport in the world.
“So, like everything else, we’ll take a deep breath and go back to what we do every day, which is building the game. Just might be a little bit harder now. It might take a little bit longer.”
The United States, which hosted the Word Cup in 1994, pulled out all the stops in its bid effort, with former President Bill Clinton and academy award winning actor Morgan Freeman taking part in the presentation to the FIFA executive committee.
In the end, FIFA, which has been besieged by allegations of corruption, in the bid process and other matters, chose to take the event to areas of the world that have never hosted the world’s biggest sporting event before.
“Football is not only by winning, but a school of life, where you also are losing,” said FIFA President Sepp Blatter as part of his speech prior to the announcement.