The 1994 World Cup final could have been in Washington


(Nancy Andrews / The Washington Post)

With the World Cup now monopolizing the attention of many sports fans (and Washington Post readers), I tried to think of a way to shamelessly exploit that interest by linking the global soccer extravaganza with the most popular local pro team.

No! Wait! Check that! I meant, here’s a timely and interesting blog item!

The 1994 World Cup games at RFK Stadium were a touchstone for many sports fans from this area, who often describe those contests as among the best sporting events in this city’s modern history. But I only recently learned that Jack Kent Cooke’s dream was actually to host the 1994 World Cup final game — and not at RFK, but at his yet-to-be-built football palace. In fact, Washington, for a time, seemed to be close to a front-runner for that honor. I thought you might be interested to read about it.

Here’s a brief history, via old Washington Post clips.

November 3, 1990, by Steve Berkowitz

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke indicated yesterday the new football stadium he intends to build for his team will be configured so it can host the 1994 World Cup soccer finals.

“We are very much interested in hosting the World Cup,” Cooke said. “We would hope to host” the championship match.

Sources have said Cooke intends to build a stadium with a capacity of 72,000 to 78,000 seats. A new facility of that size that also has the proper field dimensions likely would make the nation’s capital a front-runner to host the championship match. …

RFK Stadium, which meets FIFA’s width requirements, currently seats about 55,000. But organizers of the group preparing Washington’s bid for World Cup matches believe they can temporarily increase its capacity to 60,000. However, a group of investors led by developer John Akridge is seeking a National League baseball expansion franchise for RFK Stadium. The new teams will begin play in 1993, and the presence of a baseball team at RFK Stadium could cause a scheduling conflict.

Cooke said he has discussed the World Cup with U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg. Rothenberg served as in-house counsel for Cooke’s California Sports Inc., which ran the Forum, the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the North American Soccer League’s Los Angeles Wolves. Cooke and Rothenberg remain close.

April 17, 1991, by Steve Berkowitz and Steven Goff

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said yesterday a new football stadium will be completed by June 1994 for the Redskins and possibly World Cup soccer competition, including the final game.

The stadium, not necessarily to be in the District, would replace 54,000-seat RFK Stadium as the Redskins’ home, and sources have said the team’s attendance capacity would increase by about 20,000. In addition, U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg said a facility of that size would make the area a strong contender to host the World Cup championship game, the world’s most-watched sporting event.

“If my dear friend Jack Kent Cooke builds a new stadium, D.C.’s chances are phenomenal” to host the championship match, said Rothenberg. …

Although uncertain the stadium’s location, Cooke is definite about his interest in hosting the World Cup. It is contested every four years, and the championship match of last summer’s 24-nation final tournament attracted a worldwide television audience estimated at more than 1 billion people. …

Asked if that meant the stadium would be ready by June 1994, when the World Cup finals will begin, Cooke replied: “Oh, yes. I have never changed my view on that. I hope to have the stadium ready to play the 1993 [NFL] season. I intend to be here to enjoy the stadium for a number of years.”

It is believed that the stadium could be constructed in as few as 18 months.

 


(Nancy Andrews / The Washington Post)

 

October 4, 1991, from news services and staff reports

Washington is among 19 cities still in contention as venues for the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, although the head of the organizing committee said time is running out for a new D.C. stadium possibly being the site of the championship game.

During the announcement cutting the list from 26, Alan Rothenberg, chairman of World Cup USA 1994, said “it’s getting very, very tight from a time standpoint” to consider Jack Kent Cooke’s proposed stadium to host the championship game of the 52-game tournament.

Rothenberg said he will meet with Cooke while in Washington for the U.S.-North Korea soccer game Oct. 19 at RFK Stadium. If a new stadium isn’t built, RFK is expected to host early-round games, but its capacity would eliminate it from the championship.

March 23, 1992, by William Gildea and Steven Goff

Washington was among nine sites named today for the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, the world’s most celebrated sports event. The District was assured of being host of at least four first-round games at RFK Stadium when FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, announced there would be only nine U.S. locations. …

Scott LeTellier, managing director of World Cup USA, said that a go-ahead on building a new stadium proposed for Washington by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke would be needed by July 1 before FIFA officials would consider “premier” games for D.C. These would include the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final.

Washington could get a fifth game if it is awarded one in the round of 16. Eight of the nine sites could get one of these, and RFK could be left out on the basis that its 55,750 seats make it the smallest of the nine venues. But officials said no decision has been made on the sites for games after the first round. …

Speaking of RFK Stadium, Rothenberg said: “Obviously, we would have wished it had more seats. But we accept it for what it is. “Washington, besides being the capital, is the hub of great soccer interest. We hope a new stadium can be built.”

May 9, 1992, by Leonard Shapiro, Karlyn Barker and Peter Baker (!)

When Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke stood before a ballroom full of his football team’s most fervent fans in August 1987, he told them he dreamed of a day when Washington would have a new state-of-the-art stadium, a playpen fit for a college football bowl game, a Super Bowl, even as the centerpiece for a Summer Olympics.

“My imagination is not running wild,” the billionaire real estate and communications magnate, now 79, said that day, adding, “I hope, and almost pray, that one of our communities, preferably the District of Columbia, invites us to talk about building a new stadium for the Redskins.”

The District of Columbia did step forward almost immediately, and at one point was prepared to pay for the entire project. But now, five years, two mayoral administrations and a countless series of frustrating negotiations later, not a single building permit has been issued, not a spadeful of dirt unearthed for a $ 150 million stadium Cooke had pledged to pay for himself, with the District agreeing to provide another $ 60 million in roads, lighting and other infrastructure costs….

Alan Rothenberg, a Los Angeles attorney and former Cooke employee who now heads the U.S. Soccer Federation, said in a conversation he had with Cooke recently, “he assured me he’s close to a deal, that he still has the World Cup in mind. He said anything he does will be done in time to have D.C. host the final.”

However, other sources indicate that it could take a minimum of 24-30 months to complete a new stadium. And one source familiar with Cooke’s modus operandi said: “I think he wants to do it, and he still wants to do it in the District. But he has his own time frame, and I don’t think he’s in any tremendous hurry.”


(Larry Morris / The Washington Post)

June 4, 1992, by Leonard Shapiro

The chairman of the American organizing committee for the World Cup soccer finals said today it is highly unlikely Washington will be the site of semifinal games or the championship match because he believes Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke will be unable to build a new 78,600-seat stadium in time for the event in the summer of 1994.

“From our standpoint, it’s getting very late in the game,” said Alan Rothenberg, the Los Angeles attorney who is chairman of World Cup USA 1994 and president of the U.S. Soccer Federation. He made his remarks today following a news conference to announce that ABC and ESPN will televise all 52 games of the finals.

“I can’t look that far into the future,” Cooke said yesterday of the 1994 Cup. “I’d rather hope that [the stadium] would be [finished], and I believe if it is, Alan Rothenberg would move heaven and earth to get the World Cup into the new stadium. That’s as fair an assessment as I can give.”

Earlier this year, Cooke said he hoped to complete a state-of-the-art, 78,600-seat stadium in time for the soccer tournament. That was before he broke off negotiations in April with the D.C. government on a stadium site. He now is looking for a site in Northern Virginia and has said he hopes to complete construction for the start of the 1994 NFL season. He recently signed a two-year contract with a one-year option for the Redskins to play at RFK.

Rothenberg, a close friend and former employee of Cooke’s, said: “I’m sure Jack still thinks he can do it, but we have to submit our schedule and our sites to FIFA [the sport's international governing body] at the end of the month [June 29 in Zurich], and there’s not a lot of time left. Realistically, it’s very questionable. I think not.”

Rothenberg said Washington still will host earlier-round World Cup games at RFK Stadium, as previously announced, but that the 55,000-seat stadium “is just not big enough to host a final. I know Jack wants it there, but we need a bigger place.”

Added Scott LeTellier, managing director of World Cup USA: “With each passing day, the possibility for Washington [getting the semifinals and championship game] diminishes further and further.”

June 27, 1992, by Steve Berkowitz

It appears that Washington will host five matches of the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, but the lack of an agreement for a new stadium between the District government and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has likely cost the city a chance to host any of the tournament’s feature matches.

Jim Trecker, press officer for World Cup USA 1994, confirmed that U.S. soccer officials will recommend that the championship match — traditionally held in the capital of the host nation — be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. In an unprecedented arrangement, U.S. organizers will recommend that the third-place game and one semifinal also be played at the Rose Bowl, which seats more than 102,000.

It will be suggested that the other semifinal be awarded to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and the quarterfinals to Giants Stadium, Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.

In addition, and perhaps most disappointing to Washington’s World Cup organizing group, Soldier Field in Chicago will be recommended as the site for the opening game and ceremonies….

A new stadium in Washington, which sources have said will seat 78,600, would have made the city a strong contender for the final — the world’s most-watched sporting event. Without a commitment for a new stadium, local organizers knew 55,750-seat RFK Stadium — the tournament’s smallest venue — would not be considered for the semifinals or final. However, they believed they had a good chance for the opener and a quarterfinal. Instead, Washington will end up with four first-round matches and one match in the round of 16, according to yesterday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times.

June 30, 1992, by William Gildea

Washington yesterday officially received five 1994 World Cup soccer tournament matches, but the absence of an agreement for a new stadium between the District government and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke doomed the city’s chances of landing the opening game and the championship game. Chicago received the opener for Soldier Field, while the title game — the world’s most-watched sporting event — will be played at the 102,000-seat Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif….

“Had we had a new 78,000-seat stadium we would have been a major competitor for any of the games,” said John Koskinen, co-chairman of the Washington host committee. “If we had not gotten the final with that stadium, I think we would have gotten the opener. With a new stadium, we would have either had the final or the opening game.”…

“We knew the necessity of having a larger stadium to have the opening or final game,” said Janette Hoston Harris, director of educational affairs for the District and member of the executive board of the host committee. “But I know the mayor is excited by the fact that the World Cup games will bring $ 60 million to the District economy. We’re also excited because the World Cup has helped increase the interest in organized soccer in the city. Last year we had only about 300 youths participating. This year already we have 3,000. We want to bring the sport to every community, to every ward, in the city.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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