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Could FIFA Scandal Bring the World Cup to the USA Sooner?

3 Jun, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Pundits Say Arrests, Allegations May Result in Re-Examination of Site of 2022 Event

The sports event planning industry awoke last week to watch the rest of the world find out what it had suspected all along: the FIFA process for awarding World Cup bids was corrupt.

The early morning raid of a Zurich hotel  that netted the arrests and indictments of a number of FIFA officials might have come as a surprise to some, but the industry was not taken aback by the news of the joint U.S./Swiss probe into matters. After watching FIFA officials promise ‘transparency’ in decision-making, then hearing reports of controversy about the process to vote on FIFA’s leadership, FIFA already looked for all the world like an organization mired in discrepancies.

What will affect the American sports event planning industry is what happens next – not in a court of law but in cities and states across the U.S. wishing to host events, particularly on a large scale.

There is no lack of examples. Boston is on the table, vying for the 2024 Olympics. New Orleans, Miami and Tampa Bay are the frontrunners to host either the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl. And there are plenty of other events and plenty of other hopefuls.

But the U.S. has already seen firsthand what corrupt bidding can do. In the IOC's 1999 Salt Lake City scandal, 10 IOC members (none of whom were American) were sacked for accepting gifts of cash and other inducements. Ethics reforms followed and included a ban on members visiting cities bidding for the summer or winter Olympics.

IOC president Jacques Rogge recently compared the current FIFA scandal to that incident and called for FIFA to take a hard line against corruption in the bidding process, and to restore ‘the beautiful game’ to its former glory in time for awarding the next iteration of the World Cup.

With FIFA already neck-deep in allegations and its beleaguered president having resigned, it’s bound to be some time before decision-making commences regarding the site of the 2026 World Cup – the very subject at the heart of the scandal. And, in fact, FIFA had previously stated it would not announce the host of that event until 2017.

All things considered, they’re probably going to need the extra time.

While some consider the USA a favorite to win (North America will have been going on 32 years without a World Cup by the time 2026 rolls around), it is impossible to know for certain. According to CBS-San Francisco, the U.S. was one of the finalists in the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar. That bidding process is part of the investigation that the Swiss are currently conducting. FIFA has stated that the World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022 respectively will go on as planned, an announcement which is to be expected this early in the investigation.

But what kind of a shot does the U.S. have, either in 2022 (if FIFA reconsiders the previous decision) or 2026? Pretty good, according to some of the pundits. NBC Sports, in its Pro Soccer News segment, noted, “since the last time North America hosted a World Cup (1994 in the US), it has been brought to Europe three times, South America once, Africa once and Asia twice. The attendance records that were set during that tournament still stand today.”

If the 2022 World Cup were to come to America rather than Qatar, the cities that would likely be revisited as hosts would be those who according to Wikipedia, were suggested originally: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa and Washington, D.C. The cities with multiple qualifying stadiums were Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas and Washington. However, it is likely that at least a few of these cities have since scheduled other sports tourism events in their facilities and that those events could conflict with potential World Cup events; if they have, CVBs and sports commissions will be faced with some tough choices.

But if the earlier decision is upheld and Qatar hosts, it’s back to bidding on the 2026 World Cup. Should the U.S. gain host status for either World Cup, it is a win of enormous proportions, not the least of which is economic impact. Wikipedia noted that in 1994, the World Cup in the United States was hosted in a number of different cities, with each recording stunning income. In Los Angeles, site of the final, there was a total economic profit of $623 million. Just in California, reports from the Pasadena Convention and Visitor’s Bureau conclude that 1,700 part-time jobs became available during the preparation and duration of the event. New York, San Francisco and Boston received combined revenue of $1 billion, 45 million. And that’s just the beginning.

The FIFA scandal has given the sports event planning industry a great deal to think about. And while it’s likely the scandal will fade from the public consciousness, the ripples will continue to be felt by CVBs, sports commissions and others.

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