Am I shocked that Chicago bombed out of the 2016 Olympic bidding? Not really.
Am I shocked that they bombed out in the first round of voting? Yes, quite a bit.
I should add that I have always been an enthusiast and supporter of the Olympics and, had I stayed a sportswriter, aimed towards someday covering the Olympics as a beat. So I’ve read and still read a lot about the games, the IOC and its politics.
That said, American soccer fans should not allow Chicago’s defeat a moment’s worry when it comes to the World Cup bidding process. Here why:
1. The IOC’s politics are way more unpredictable and opaque than FIFA’s. The IOC has all kinds of influences and stakeholders that might not be as obvious to observers as those within FIFA. Here are some examples.
FIFA’s Confederations make for more bloc voting, which both corrupts and simplifies the process. Meaning when Jack Warner or Issa Hayatou promises their confederations’ support, they not only mean it, but can get it done too. Have no doubts that CONCACAF will vote as a block (even Mexico) in favor of the US hosting a World Cup. The IOC and any alliances/blocs within it, tend to be harder to read. It’s well known for example that FIFA chief Sepp Blatter’s powerbase consists of CONCACAF, Asia and the Persian Gulf states especially. If Blatter says he favors “X,” it’s safer to assume that thus CONCACAF, AFC, and the Gulf States will go with him. Also, look and see where FIFA Goal Program funding is going. You can almost guarantee these countries will side with Blatter. This sounds paradoxical, but FIFA is so obviously corrupt it almost makes it more transparent.
Within the IOC, it’s less clear and involves more figures “outside” the formal process. For example, I can guarantee you that both overtly and covertly, former IOC head JA Samaranch will have played a major role in pushing Madrid. Also, I suspect the fact that the IOC has yet to sell the rights to the 2016 games to a North American TV network (either NBC-Universal or ABC/ESPN) hurt Tokyo, whose distant timezone would lower the value of the rights. The unpredictability can wow even the most tuned in observers as evidenced by London’s win over what appeared to many as the better bid from Paris.
2. Don’t forget that it’s nearly a completely different set of people voting for the World Cup. Out of the 90 or so people on the IOC, I only count two (Blatter, Hayatou) who will have anything official to do with the World Cup vote.
3. As bad as the USSF is, the USOC might be in even worse shape. This will be hard for people on here to believe, but the US Olympic Committee might be even worse run than US Soccer. Unlike USSF, the US Olympic committee has been hemorrhaging sponsors in recent years including General Motors, The Home Depot and Bank of America. The committee’s leadership has been in flux throughout the late stages of the bid. That is unlikely be the case with the World Cup bid as Sunil Gulati appears secure and Chuck Blazer and his XXXXXXL pants don’t appear to be going anywhere. Also, consider this, Former MLS commish Doug Logan is a major player within the USOC as the head of USA Track and Field. As we learned in the early years of MLS, that is no good thing. More than anything else, I suspect the IOC simply didn’t want to risk working with a National Olympic Committee that didn’t appear to have its managerial ducks in a row.
4. There might be more support amongst average Americans for hosting a World Cup than there was in Chicago for the Olympics. I was stunned to see how “blah” Chicago residents appeared to be about hosting the Olympics. Polls had supporters leading opponents by only two percentage points. I think for a number of reasons, that number amongst Americans would be quite a bit higher for a World Cup. It won’t cost individual municipalities too much (police overtime comes to mind, though) to host the World Cup matches at (most crucially) the already built stadiums. Olympics games (especially Summer ones) are extraordinarily expensive ventures. A US World Cup, I don’t think is. I don’t think we’ll see a opposition group nearly as well-organized or vocal to the World Cup as we saw against with Chicago.
5. Technically, a US World Cup bid is better than Chicago’s Olympic bid could ever hope to be. Chicago’s bid required the funding and construction of an Olympic Stadium, an aquatic center, and the Olympic Village amongst many other venues. A US World Cup bid won’t require any of that. Our stadiums are built, and our hotel rooms are plentiful. One other thing that US Soccer won’t have to worry about are legacy uses/costs, which are a huge part of bidding for an Olympics. No one has to worry about any of the prospective World Cup stadiums not being utilized once the soccer ends. Most of them will be full yet again just a month or so post-tournament when football season starts up again.
6. The passion will be there for the World Cup bid. Only a few minutes after Chicago’s loss, we’re hearing that Chicago’s bid didn’t have enough “passion” behind it. Well, I can see how that might be the case if you can barely muster a plurality of local support behind it. The World Cup bid is one of the ONLY things in American soccer that EVERYONE in the sport here supports wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter which faction of American soccer you participate in or which corner of American soccer fandom you reside in, you support the US getting a second World Cup. Even me, king of the cynics, is hugely excited at the thought of hosting a World Cup in the US.
I’ll have more on this later as more of the fallout develops.