Clinton, Beckham Back U.S. Bid to Host World Cup in 2022

The U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup has the backing of former president Bill Clinton and ex-England soccer captain David Beckham. Tomorrow, the group needs to win over members of the sport’s governing body.

At stake is about $5 billion, what the American delegation estimates holding the world’s most-watched sporting event is worth. FIFA will vote on the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 events in Zurich on Dec. 2.

The U.S.’s two-year campaign may hinge on the abilities of Clinton, 64, and actor Morgan Freeman, 73, to convince the 22 men who sit in the decision making committee during final presentations today. The American bid is behind Qatar, at odds of 4-5, and Australia at 5-2 at U.K. bookmaker, which rates the U.S. a 3-1 shot. That means a successful $1 bet would bring in $3 plus the original stake.

Qatar “has been getting increasing support,” said Alex Donohue, a spokesman for Ladbrokes. “People see the Gulf states as having plenty of money to invest in the infrastructure to stage a World Cup and they’re football-mad there.”

Sunil Gulati, who runs the sport’s governing body in America, and U.S. national team captain Landon Donovan, will also lead the American fight.

“When you hear (President Clinton) talk about the game, the power of the game, the connection of that to the things he spends every day thinking about and trying to change I couldn’t do it justice,” Gulati told reporters yesterday. “I’d let him do that.”

Final Presentations

The delegation makes its final presentation to FIFA’s Executive Committee at 5 p.m. local time. The panel will decide a day later between the offer and those from Australia, Qatar, Japan and Korea. It will also vote on where the 2018 tournament will be staged. Russia is favorite for the earlier event, at 1-3 at William Hill Plc, followed by England at 10-3, Portugal/Spain at 9-2 and Belgium and Holland at 25-1.

The decision about where to take sport’s most-watched event after Brazil in 2014 has been marred by a corruption investigation that led to the suspension of two voters and allegations of rule-breaching vote-sharing agreements.

The U.S. hasn’t been implicated in any of the controversies and was ranked as the only bidder in the 2022 competition estimated to be able to reach revenue targets set by FIFA, according to a confidential report prepared for the governing body by McKinsey & Co. Still, Gulati said it wasn’t easy to predict what would happen in the secret vote.

Roller Coaster

“We’re feeling good about things,” he said. “It’s roller coaster: You can feel good right now but who knows.”

Jack Warner, head of CONCACAF, the governing body that includes North America, said yesterday that the region’s three votes will go in favor of the U.S. after speaking to President Barack Obama.

The U.S. committee has lined up meetings between Clinton and backers of the bid in a final effort to solidify their support. He will also meet officials that U.S. officials think can be last minute converts to the bid’s merits.

A majority vote is required to decide the host. If that isn’t immediately attained, the lowest-scoring bids are eliminated in further voting rounds.

Counting against the U.S. may be that it, just like Japan and Korea, hosted the tournament before. Qatar and Australia are first time bidders. The 1994 event in the U.S. still holds the record for the highest attendance of any World Cup, despite only having 24 teams rather than the current 32 took part.

Donovan, 28, said he’ll use his memories of that event to remind FIFA what kind of an impact a U.S. World Cup can have.

“My story can be replicated and duplicated if we get the World Cup in 12 years and I want to give that opportunity to another kid to be in my position like I was in 1994,” said Donovan, a forward with Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.

Beckham Support

David Beckham, a teammate of Donovan’s in Los Angeles, gave his support to the U.S.’s bid yesterday.

“I’ve lived in America now for four years and I’ve seen how the game’s been growing,” said Beckham, in Zurich to speak on behalf of England’s 2018 bid. “I’ve seen the interest in the game so without a doubt they can host the World Cup. I’ve loved my time there.”

FIFA’s technical reports praised the American bid for its stadiums and infrastructure. Yet, with such a small pool of voters, personal relationships are likely to be just as crucial in determining the final result.

“We know all of these people they’re friends,” said Gulati. “In some cases very close friends, in others we don’t know as well. So it’s very hard because it’s also true for some of the other people that are also bidding. So in the end you’re going to have to disappoint some friends.”

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