Going to dinner abroad can be hazardous. You never know when you're going to run into Henry Kissinger at full chatter. The other night, the doctor stood in the glare of TV lights outside the dining room of the Hotel Ritz, chattering away about Al Haig and the PLO when someone thought to ask, "What about playing the World Cup in the U.S.?"
This is a favorite topic of the erstwhile goalkeeper, who, among other distinctions such as a Nobel Prize, has been honorary commissioner of the North American Soccer League. So the question was mostly idle chatter until Kissinger answered, "Maybe, if Colombia drops out, the U.S. will have the World Cup in '86."
Hmmm. More, please.
"That would make the U.S. a world power in soccer. The U.S., if it doesn't get the '86 Cup, will bid again for '90 or maybe '94."
Would Kissinger be part of a U.S. effort to get the '86 World Cup?
"Yes," he said firmly before turning to light chatter, something about NATO's shaky alliance.
A World Cup in the U.S. would be wonderful. The Brazil-Italy game of last week was sports theater of the richest texture, with heros and fools, sound and color, all with victory for the taking until the last second. And that game yet stands second to West Germany's overtime shootout with France, won only when an injured star limped out to help his brave and exhausted buddies.
Bring the U.S. a month of soccer at World Cup level, and we then would know why so many nations give their heart to this game that we give the back of our hand. A month of the World Cup on network TV would move America's children to soccer fields the way Olga Korbut moved them to the uneven parallel bars.
So, should we reserve July of '86 for soccer?
There's no firm answer yet, though Kissinger has company in wanting the World Cup in North America in '86.
Pele loves the idea, as we'll see.
Given the games in 1974, Colombia still must satisfy the International Football Federation (FIFA) that it can stage a 24-team, month-long tournament requiring several stadiums.
If dissatisfied, FIFA will move the championships.
Such a decision likely will come in December, according to Gene Edwards, president of the United States Soccer Federation. Edwards and the NASL's second-in-command, Phil Woosnam, both emphasized today that the U.S. is not politicking for the games.
"This is a very sensitive thing," Edwards said. "We've kind of downplayed it . . . we have thought of how we'd go about putting on a World Cup. We've even prepared a brochure--we haven't distributed it at all--with a montage of our stadiums that hold 50,000 . . . (But) we would make a formal request (only) if asked to by FIFA," Edwards said.
"We have heard no official word that the games will not be played in Colombia," Woosnam said. "The U.S. could be ready for the Cup, though. The U.S. is a big-event country."
Reuter News Agency has quoted the chairman of FIFA's '86 organizing committee as saying he opposes Colombia "because they won't be able to handle it." The chairman, Hermann Neuberger of Germany, is here for the championship Sunday, but could not be reached for comment today. Nor could Alphonse Senior, the head of the Colombia delegation to FIFA.
Edwards said Colombia made an optimistic presentation to FIFA today, promising the full support of the nation's government.
Some soccer experts doubt Colombia is up to it. They say the games certainly will be moved, either to the U.S. or Brazil. Some believe the U.S. would be attractive for the touristy, big bucks reasons, but has done nothing in soccer to deserve the honor. In contrast, Brazil is the cradle of football greatness, three times world champion but World Cup host only in 1950.
But even Pele, the Brazilian god, believes the '86 Cup would be best off in the U.S.
"I used to play in Colombia," he said. "If you asked me, Colombia now doesn't have a possibility. And it would be very difficult for them to create possibilities in three and a half, four years . . . Colombia has very, very few facilities. The TV is black and white still. They don't have enough stadiums, don't have enough hotels. It would be almost impossible to make Colombia a good World Cup."
A World Cup in America, Pele said, "would be tremendous, not only for the public, but for the World Cup and for the game. It would be fantastic. The U.S. is a new place for soccer . . . no problems with traffic, no problems with hotels, everything is there."
The United States is host this Aug. 7 to a soccer all-star benefit game matching Europe against the rest of the world. Italy's Paolo Rossi, Poland's Zbigniew Boniek and West Germany's Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will play together against the likes of Argentina's Diego Maradona and Brazil's Socrates Zico.
"You can't look like you want the World Cup," said the NASL's Woosnam, a veteran of FIFA's palace intrigues. "But this all-star game is important. FIFA wanted to play it in Los Angeles at Christmas; the U.S. said no, we wanted it in August, right after the World Cup, and in the Meadowlands. We were, you can say, taking the long-range view."
A Meadowlands summer sellout of 70,000, organized crisply and turning a huge profit, may look good in December when FIFA makes its decision on Colombia.