By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The U.S. Soccer Federation is formulating a bid to host the 2018 World Cup, an effort that could bring the quadrennial tournament here for the first time in 24 years as well as position the United States to stage the 2014 event in case a South American country is not ready.
USSF President Sunil Gulati said yesterday that the federation will form an organizing committee at this weekend's annual meetings in Los Angeles and prepare to formally advise FIFA, the sport's world governing body, of its intentions to compete for the 2018 tournament. England is also planning a bid. The host is likely to be chosen in 2012.
"We showed in 1994 that the U.S. is capable of hosting a terrific event," Gulati said in a telephone interview. "Now, with the way the soccer landscape in this country has evolved, we would be in position to put on a spectacular event. We are much more a part of the sport internationally than we were in 1994."
Amid global skepticism about holding the tournament in a nontraditional soccer-playing country, the '94 World Cup set the record for largest average game attendance (68,991) and generated millions of dollars in revenue for the nine U.S. venues, including Washington, and for various national soccer initiatives.
Last summer's World Cup in Germany, played in stadiums with smaller seating capacities than the U.S. football facilities used in 1994, averaged 52,491, the third-highest figure in tournament history.
Despite concerns about its preparedness, South Africa is set to host the 2010 tournament. A South American country is scheduled to stage the 2014 event, with Brazil and Colombia having expressed interest, but FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter has left open the possibility of awarding it elsewhere.
"We have said that the 2014 World Cup will be staged in South America," he said recently. "But if there is no candidate strong enough, then we would go north instead as the logical thing."
Mexico -- which hosted in 1970 and '86 -- might also formulate a bid for 2018 and be ready for 2014.
Gulati said the USSF is focused on 2018, not 2014, but "obviously FIFA knows what we're capable of and, if something else changed, we would be open to any other possibilities."
FIFA is planning to choose the 2014 site this November, seven years in advance instead of the usual six in case of bidding issues. Most South American countries are supporting Brazil, which has won the World Cup a record five times but has not staged it since 1950. The country will have to rebuild many stadiums and improve its infrastructure. The last South American country to host the World Cup was Argentina in 1978.
FIFA's decision to award the 1994 tournament to the United States was based largely on big crowds for soccer at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and, Gulati said, faith in the USSF's ability to run a world-class tournament in an emerging soccer nation.
A bid for 2018, he said, is bolstered by the success of the 1994 event; two successful Women's World Cups; a growing TV audience for international matches; an established pro league in MLS; the emergence of the national team; and the availability of numerous new stadiums, such as those in Seattle, Houston, Tampa and Phoenix, to compete against 1994 host cities.
"We've got some history and a track record," said Gulati, a Columbia University economics professor who has been involved in U.S. soccer administration for more than 25 years and worked on the 1994 bid committee.
Gulati, who was elected USSF president last year, said FIFA was "very open" to the idea of a 2018 U.S. bid and that CONCACAF, the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, was "very positive."