By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The United States has a good chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup if soccer's governing body adheres to its principle of rotating the massive sporting event continent to continent, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Monday.
But, Blatter added, many Europeans in the organization feel that Europe (which hosted in 2006) should be awarded every third World Cup, which would favor England, Spain or perhaps another country on the continent.
The conflicting views will be reconciled in December 2010, when FIFA is expected to award hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Between now and then, the United States and its 10 rivals will submit detailed proposals and engage in deft political maneuvering to curry FIFA's favor.
On Monday, President Obama got the U.S. campaign off to a start that Blatter conceded "merits a compliment" -- demonstrating his own appreciation for "the beautiful game" by dribbling a soccer ball that Blatter had presented him in the Oval Office.
Blatter said afterward that Obama, whose basketball prowess is well-known, isn't ready for a spot on the U.S. national team. But, he joked, Obama probably could have made the second-tier U.S. squad that was trounced by Mexico, 5-0, in the CONCACAF Gold Cup match he attended Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., as part of his four-day visit to the United States.
The key item on Blatter's U.S. tour was the meeting with Obama, in which they discussed ways of strengthening soccer in the United States. Blatter called it "a great encounter."
In addition, Blatter presented a formal invitation to the president and his family to attend the 2010 World Cup, which will be hosted by South Africa. According to Blatter, Obama directed his aides to consult his agenda.
FIFA's policy of rotating the World Cup was adopted in 2000 and largely responsible for the decision to award the 2010 event to South Africa. Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup.
But in 2007, FIFA voted to drop the rotation in 2018.
"[If] we go again in a rotation, after South America, there should be North America coming in," Blatter said. "That would be the normal way to go."
The United States hosted the 1994 World Cup, and MLS, the country's professional league, was launched in 1996 as a result. But neither has catapulted soccer's popularity to the level FIFA officials had hoped.
Blatter said he understood that the United States' crowded sports landscape represented a challenge for extending soccer's foothold. He praised the strides the women's game has made, noting: "You have the best women footballers here in this country." And he accentuated the positives when asked if the country's inability to capitalize on the 1994 World Cup should count against it in the next round of voting.
"Yes, it has not had the impact we expected," Blatter conceded. "But it was the first World Cup organization, and so far the only one, where all tickets were sold, and all seats were occupied. So this is a good legacy of the organizational skill of the United States."
Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who accompanied Blatter, called it a positive meeting.
"The president knows the game," Gulati said. "His daughters play. And he was very receptive, asking what else he could do to help with both the bid and the development of the game."