NEW YORK – FIFA's World Cup inspectors will have breakfast at the White House on Wednesday, a highlight of their three-day tour of potential stadiums and facilities for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
FIFA's executive committee votes on both hosts Dec. 2, and the U.S. is the eighth of nine stops on the tour. Europe is expected to be awarded the 2018 tournament, with England, Russia, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands competing.
The U.S. is up against Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea for 2022. The American bid is likely to be boosted by China's interest in hosting in 2026 — FIFA rules specify consecutive World Cups can't be on the same continent, meaning an Asian host in 2022 would eliminate China as a 2026 site. Australian is part of soccer's Asian confederation.
"China has extraordinary growth and would be in an inviting host," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said at a news conference Tuesday that began the tour. "They put on a spectacular Olympic games. And I think there's a lot of people in the world who think China is an important player, certainly in the world economy, in the world of sports and would be a great host at some time in the future. Whether that's 2026 or beyond is up to FIFA."
Delegates were greeted Monday night by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
It was unclear whether President Barack Obama will attend Wednesday's breakfast with the six-man FIFA delegation, headed by Chilean soccer federation president Harold Mayne-Nicholls. Obama hosted the U.S. team in May, and former President Bill Clinton is chairman of the U.S. bid. Clinton attended World Cup matches in South Africa, as did Vice President Joe Biden, and Clinton met with 13 of the 24 voters.
"We're not sure of all the guests, but there certainly will be a couple of cabinet members and a couple senior members of the president's staff," Gulati said.
Mayne-Nicholls, whose group finishes in Qatar next week, said it will submit its technical report to FIFA by November. Stadiums, transportation and communication are not an issue in the U.S., although some teams during the 1994 World Cup were critical of the hot June weather in some parts of the country and the large travel distances.
FIFA's delegation was to visit just five of the 18 cities because of time constraints: New York/New Jersey, Washington, Miami, Dallas and Houston. Gulati said U.S. officials wanted to show off their two newest venues, the New Meadowlands Stadium and Cowboys Stadium, possible sites for the opener and the final. Among the sites to be visited were possibilities for the International Broadcast Center, the draws and the FIFA congress.
"We are here to get as much information as possible," said Mayne-Nicholls, who didn't take questions.
Architects were to be on hand to show how fields in NFL stadiums could be widened to FIFA's 75-yard (68-meter) preference. During the 1994, FIFA agreed to play on several slightly narrow fields.
Gulati said that while the U.S. remained in the bidding for 2018, it would consider withdrawing if asked to by FIFA president Sepp Blatter or Union of European Football Associations president Michel Platini.
Gulati said a second World Cup in the U.S. — and up to 11½ years of buildup — would accelerate soccer's growth. FIFA has devoted increasing resources to the U.S. market since large crowds attended soccer matches at the Los Angeles Olympics.
"We look at this as a 50-year time horizon. What we've done since '84 ... we're roughly at halftime. Just 25 years in, look at what we've done in he first half," Gulati said. "Imagine what we can do in the second half if American television and commercial partnerships treat the World Cup the same way they might treat the Olympics, for examples, and more Americans start treating World Cup viewing the way they treat the NFL."