Sunil Gulati: U.S. soccer, FIFA would benefit from USA-hosted World Cup
LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati believes his sport could receive a big domestic boost from hosting the World Cup in 2026.
He also thinks scandal-plagued FIFA would benefit immensely from putting its biggest show back on steadier ground.
"It's probably now at least as important for the international community to be in the United States as it is for the United States, in terms of hosting the World Cup," Gulati said Thursday. "That's my honest belief. It's as important for the global game and everything we've been talking about today, and keeping that brand, whether it's the brand of four letters or the brand of World Cup, where we would all like it to be."
Gulati, a member of FIFA's executive committee, made his remarks during a discussion about the growth of soccer at the IMG World Congress of Sports in downtown Los Angeles. He sat on a panel with Landon Donovan, Abby Wambach and FIFA Director of Marketing Thierry Weil.
Although Gulati thinks it's "inevitable" that the U.S. will host another World Cup at some point, his organization is "still reviewing what the procedures are" for submitting a bid for the 2026 event.
The Americans emerged from the 2022 bidding process with disappointment after the World Cup was awarded to tiny, oil-rich Qatar, a choice that still shocks much of the world.
The 2026 host is expected to be chosen in 2017, although much could change within FIFA if long-serving President Sepp Blatter is ousted in an election in May.
"We'd put on a spectacular event," Gulati said. "We're not the only ones that can do it, but we'd put on a spectacular event, and people know that. Winning it at home would be really kind of cool."
Weil echoed Gulati's faith in the United States' ability to stage a superior World Cup.
"The U.S. would be ready any time to do it," Weil said. "You just need to have the planning phase."
FIFA has received widespread criticism from numerous corners of politics and sports for putting the 2018 World Cup in Russia and awarding the 2022 event to Qatar. Russia has a struggling economy, anti-gay laws and serious racism concerns, while human rights abuses in the building of Qatar's stadiums have attracted international outrage.
Meanwhile, the CONCACAF region hasn't staged a World Cup since 1994, when the U.S. hosted it. The game experienced a subsequent boom in North America with the creation of Major League Soccer.
After two decades of growth, soccer now ranks among young North Americans' favorite sports by nearly any measure. The Women's World Cup was held in the U.S. in 1999 and won by the Americans. Canada will host the event in June.
Gulati said that boom was only "the first half" of soccer's U.S. rise.
"And imagine what the second half will be like," Gulati said. "The World Cup will be a part of that."
Several factors could be working in the United States' favor in the 2026 competition.
Fox recently was sold the North American broadcast rights to the 2026 World Cup without a bidding process, apparently to avert any legal action from the broadcast giant when the Qatar World Cup is officially shifted from June and July to November and December of 2022.
The method of FIFA's decision perplexed and enraged many observers within the organization. Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, the prominent FIFA candidate attempting to unseat Blatter, believes the rights should have been subject to competition.
Yet Prince Ali is among the FIFA officials who support moving the competition among the continents, which theoretically would put an American bid at the front of the line.
Said Weil: "The next round after Qatar, it will be another continent which will host the World Cup, which would be another nice thing to have."
Until then, FIFA has plenty of problems with its two upcoming choices.
Russia's 2018 World Cup bid reportedly trimmed its budget by four percent this week, eliminating some of its plans for luxury hotels and other amenities on the heels of its massive Sochi Olympics bid. Russia's economy has struggled in recent months due to the low price of oil, but Weil said FIFA isn't worried by the cutbacks.
"The economic part is clearly in Russia that they will scale down a certain initiative, which is normal," Weil said. "That would be a bit strange if they would not do so. But as long as it's not affecting what clearly has been committed from Russia, it's not affecting the infrastructure we need to host a World Cup there. So we are not building a couple of hotels, or if they will not do certain road infrastructure, it's not affecting the overall organization of World Cup."