Playing World Cup Politics: 2018, 2022 and the United States’ Bids

When Australia withdrew from bidding for the 2018 World Cup, deciding to focus solely on their 2022 World Cup bid, many assumed the United States would follow suit soon enough. After all, it has become more than evident that FIFA intends on making sure the World Cup takes place on European soil in 2018.

But then, last week, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati stated: “Australia’s decision doesn’t change our thinking at all.”  Jeff Carlisle at ESPN Soccernet also reported that Gulati was aware of the general belief the 2018 World Cup will be held in Europe: “We’ve acknowledged that sentiment for a long time. We acknowledged it the day we announced we were bidding for two World Cups, but that hasn’t changed our view.”

So what, then, is US Soccer playing at in sticking with a seemingly doomed bid for the 2018 World Cup? What is Gulati’s thinking? Former BBC journalist Mihir Bose has a theory at Inside the Games. It’s a long theory, it’s a rambling one, and whether or not it’s right about the US Bid Committee’s motivations for sticking with their 2018 bid for now or not, it also says a fair bit about the absurd and opaque process of how FIFA decides who gets the World Cup.

Here’s the gist of it:

With the USA bid committee led by former President Bill Clinton, the Yanks will know a thing or two about deals. They will look closely at the voting procedure FIFA decide in October and then make their announcement that they are concentrating on 2022.

America will go into any deals knowing it has three solid CONCACAF votes. At the CONCACAF Congress last week here in Johannesburg, the English presentation led by David Dein who opened the batting followed by Andy Anson, was by common consent the best. The CONCACAF delegates I met were positively drooling about it, far better than a poor Russia and a [sic] even poorer Spain-Portugal. But at the end of it Jack Warner, CONCACAF’s leader, said, “Our three votes are for the USA.”

But come October and the voting system known, America can then look at its options. It will then be in a position to make a deal with the strongest European challenger.

Let us say by October there is an European country – Russia, Spain-Portugal or England – with six votes. I discount Belgium-Netherlands because I do not believe they stand much of a chance. For the USA, its bargaining power is immense.

This is how I see the conversation going. The Americans say to the strongest European, “We give you our three, which takes you to nine and in an almost impregnable position [a winner requires 13 to win] and you give us your six which makes us very strong for 2022.”

The deal done, the USA withdraws saying how it welcomes 2018 coming back to the old world, all the time confident that 2022 will go to the new world.

It is worth stressing that an European-USA deal has been talked about for a long time. Michel Platini President of UEFA, discussed it with Sunil Gulati, President of the US Soccer Federation, more than a year and half ago. This was also something that Lord Triesman was working on, hoping to persuade Platini that England was the strongest of the Europeans.

So, the USA keeps its 2018 bid as a bargaining chip, with its three guaranteed CONCACAF votes of the 24 that make up FIFA’s Executive Committee who will make the call, and when the time comes, could trade them for 2022 votes from Europe. Australia didn’t really have this bargaining option: there is no Australian on the FIFA Executive Committee, and it does not have control of the votes of its FIFA Confederation, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The AFC is led by Mohammed Bin Hammam, from Qatar, who are also bidding for 2022. So it has nothing to bargain with.

This patient, political maneuvering by the United States as Bose explains it does fit with another simple statement made by Gulati in the ESPN piece: “If we had any alteration of plans, I don’t see why we would be doing anything until we know what the voting procedures will be,” he said.

To go back to Bose’s piece, we see those voting procedures remains unclear, so whether or not they can make this bargain remains an open question: hence why the United States is holding on to their 2018 bid until it’s all revealed by FIFA in October. Because in this case, we have the unusual situation that two tournaments’ hosts will be decided upon at the same time:

Normally, for such votes FIFA executive members are given a card with the names of the countries bidding. But with two bids being voted on at one meeting, will they [be] given one card or two?

Remember, while all the non-Europeans, barring USA, have withdrawn from 2018, all the Europeans, including England, are technically still in the race for 2022, so a voting card for 2022 would also have to carry their names.

And how exactly will the vote take place? They first fill in the card for 2018, then get another card and vote immediately on 2022? Or is the result for 2018 declared before they vote on 2022?

More, how are the FIFA Executive members told about 2018? Are they told only the continent that has won? Are they told the name of the country? Are they given the details of the vote?

I imagine all that is being discussed amongst the FIFA Executive Committee members in South Africa at the World Cup right now. And there is of course an American amongst them: CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, whose blog shows us he’s being sure to hobnob with the important figures like FIFA Vice-President Geoff Thomposn (far-right) and, of more importance, Miss Universe 1992, Michelle McLean. Chuck is the fellow to the left of her.*

Chuck Blazer, Michelle McLean, Miss Universe, Geoff Thompson

* yes, that was a terrible segue to end this piece solely as an excuse to post another of Chuck’s brilliant photos.

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