Before going to sleep Wednesday night, I turned on my TV and found a replay of an international friendly between the Under-17 national teams of the United States and the Korea Republic. Normally I wouldn’t watch a bunch of 16-year-olds playing soccer in an empty stadium at 3 a.m., but this time I made an exception.
Why? Well, I was excited for the next morning when it would be announced that the United States would be hosting the 2022 World Cup; I figured some of these kids would be the ones I would be watching play when the World Cup finally came home, so I had better start learning their names now (Alejandro Guido was particularly impressive).
I knew the United States would be hosting 2022. After the last World Cup in South Africa and the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA would want a host that wouldn’t have to spend billions of dollars on stadiums and infrastructure. The United States has a plethora of stadiums for World Cup games, such as the New Meadowlands Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. Not to mention the 115 stadiums reserved just as training facilities for teams.
FIFA would also want a host that would bring fans to the games. The United States set a World Cup attendance record when it last hosted in 1994, which still stands today. This past summer, the United States was responsible for the second-highest amount of ticket sales, after the host South Africa. And FIFA would clearly want fans traveling from other countries to be well-accommodated. The United States put 13 million hotel-room nights on reserve, the largest room block in history. Not to mention free public transportation for ticket holders.
To me, it is obvious that the United States should host the 2022 World Cup. With Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and, perhaps most importantly, Morgan Freeman participating in the United States’ pitch to FIFA, it seemed like it was a lock.
So I watched that Under-17 game (the United States won 2-1) and I went to sleep, excited for 2022 and the world’s greatest sporting event right here at home.
But my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. I woke up Thursday morning to the news that Qatar would be hosting the 2022 World Cup.
I was shocked. Just a week before FIFA rated Qatar’s bid as “high risk.”
In the summer, temperatures in Qatar can reach 120 degrees. In response, Qatar plans to spend $4 billion on building air-conditioned stadiums. But what about when fans aren’t at games? Will people really want to walk around in such extreme heat? On top of that, Qatar will spend another $50 billion on developing the infrastructure.
Qatar is the size of Connecticut and has a population of 1.7 million, making it the smallest country to ever host a World Cup. Qatar has one commercial international airport.
Qatar’s national team has never come close to qualifying for a World Cup. As the host, it will have an automatic bid and will likely be the worst side to ever compete in the event.
Qatar is ranked 144 out of 167 in the global democracy index. There is known oppression of women, homosexuals and foreigners.
Despite these shortcomings, Qatar was chosen. Maybe it will open up the secluded Qatar to the rest of the world. Maybe it had to do with showcasing what the Middle East is capable of. Maybe it had to do with continuing to bring the World Cup to new locations for an increase of the game’s political and social impact. While these things are true, I believe it most likely came down to the money.
Qatar is the second-wealthiest nation in the world (per capita). And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say bribes were involved — although I wouldn’t put it past the FIFA officials, two of whom were suspended just last month in a corruption scandal — it is clear that the huge amounts of money Qatar spent on lobbying efforts were successful. The United States Soccer Federation was simply unable to compete financially.
Or maybe I’m just a bitter American soccer fan. In fact, I am. I am sure that Qatar will put on an excellent World Cup. The stadiums will be gorgeous — especially the island stadium they are planning — and I am sure the fan experience will be excellent. If I am at all able to attend, I will definitely be there.
However, I just can’t help but feel like the United States was slighted. With soccer continuing to grow in America, the timing seems perfect for a World Cup. Americans should be very disappointed, but that’s life. Now, U.S soccer must bounce back. It must work hard and grow to reach their goal of becoming a real powerhouse in world soccer. And while we may not be hosting in 2022, we should be planning for the championship.
With the hopes of hosting in 2022 gone, it is time to look forward. Here’s to the 2026 World Cup in the United States!