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The 1994 Bid - How the US got the World Cup - Part 1

It certainly was an innocuous and curious place to announce one's intentions to host the world's greatest sporting spectacle -- in the lobby of a boys dormitory at Indiana Central University during the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis on July 30, 1982. But a sportswriter from the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle put the question to U.S. Soccer Federation president Gene Edwards: How much interest did the USSF have in hosting the World Cup?

While there were rumors of the U.S. putting in a bid to host the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, the federation actually had its sights set toward 1994. The USSF had filed an application to host the 1990 edition (which eventually was awarded to Italy in 1984).

"We did it to show an interest to host it at some time," Edwards said. "We realize it goes back to Europe in 1990. I would say our chances in 1994 would be very good."

Not surprisingly, Edwards' statement did not exactly grab front-page headlines in the U.S. or around the globe because, let's face it, 12 years is a long, long time to plan for something. In these quick-paced days of short attention spans, thanks to DVD's the internet, ipods and virtual reality, 12 years could be construed as a generation or two.

In the months ahead, the USSF drifted off course from that plan just a bit because an opportunity to host the 1982 cup was dangled in front of the federation. Colombia, which was selected to organize the event when included 16 teams, dropped out in October, 1982, after failing to overcome problems trying to find enough first-class stadiums for a tournament that was upgraded to 24 teams.

U.S. soccer officials wanted that World Cup badly because professional soccer was faltering and fading fast in the early eighties. The U.S.'s predominant professional league, North American Soccer League, was teetering toward extinction. After boasting as many as 24 teams in 1980 -- sparked by the presence of Pele in the late seventies -- the league had dwindled to 12 for 1982 with a rather bleak future staring at it.

A number of soccer officials thought the World Cup would give the league a boost and save the sport.

More important international soccer decision-makers, however, had other ideas.

The contenders and pretenders emerged, including Brazil, Mexico, U.S. and Canada.

The process turning into an embarrassing fiasco for the United States, which seemed to go out of its way to irritate FIFA virtually every step of the way.

At one time or another, the USSF insulted the soccer world's governing body, demanding that the organization fly over an inspection team to look its stadiums, making ridiculous threats, wailing about every decision that FIFA ruled against it, claiming that an agreement between FIFA and Mexico was made in secret, and generally embarrassing itself.

"FIFA is run a bit like a country club," said Clive Toye, the former New York Cosmos general manager who signed Pele in 1975. "They have to get to know you before you're accepted. . . . If you're going to join a club, you abide by the club's rules. When you become president, you can change them. But you don't change them by standing outside the door, kicking at it, and then spitting in the eye of the man who opens it."

In other words, you don't mess around with FIFA if you want to play international soccer. There might no other organization in the world that wields so much power over such a sphere of influence.

Based in Zurich, Switzerland -- the ultimate country of neutrality -- FIFA is one of the most powerful organizations -- sports or otherwise -- in the world.

"Violence, political and racial reasons have bothered or damaged other sports," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said when he was general secretary. "Since 1972, there have been problems in the Olympic Games. We have not had such problems in FIFA. There never has been a boycott."

If FIFA was the United Nations, there would be no or few wars. All battles and arguments would be settled on the soccer field. If a country does not like a FIFA decision, it could quit the organization and sacrifice playing the sport on the international level. "We have power -- that's important; respect and power," former FIFA press officer Guido Tognoni.

How much respect and power?

In 1973, the Soviet Union refused to play Chile in a World Cup qualifying match because of political reasons. The Soviets were fined $50,000 and Chile awarded a forfeit. Had this been the UN, the Soviets might have gotten away without paying their dues.

"Nobody must play football in FIFA," Blatter said. "If they want to play association football, they must abide. It's like you're in a family. You respect the rules of the family or leave the family."

Despite being a member since 1913, the U.S. sometimes felt like it was on the other side of the window looking in, and the Americans would do anything to become one of the boys.

So, it was rather surprising that the U.S. did not help itself one iota with a flimsy, 92-page bid with color photos and access routes to the stadium. The USSF did estimate a conservative ticket revenue of $42 million, more than twice what Spain took in 1982, according to Werner Fricker, then USSF vice president and World Cup committee chairman. It looked all nice, but FIFA wanted some substance with that style. There were no governmental guarantees that Mexico managed to get in on time.

"Sure we can blame FIFA," said Guy DiVencenzo, then USSF treasurer and member of the organization's World Cup executive committee. "Let's face it, we blew it ourselves. . . . I think the sloppy handling of it helped make it easier for FIFA to say no. "The application we presented to FIFA on March 11 [1982] was frivolous, glossy, and transparent, and probably deserved the treatment it received. We proved that FIFA was correct in describing our application as 'superficial' when we sent a supplement on May 12. It was like taking a test in school, failing, and they asking the teacher if we could try again."

FIFA, worrying about putting the cup in essentially was a non-soccer country, started to favor Mexico, which staged the event in 1970. Brazil? It dropped out because of severe financial problems. Canada never was taken very seriously (there was talks of the U.S. and Canada putting together a joint bid).

Edwards tried to put the fiasco into perspective. "In retrospect, what would have happened if we got it," Edwards said after the rejection "We could have easily messed it up."

In retrospect, it certainly appears it turned out for the best.

"FIFA is looking for us [to host the World Cup]," Edwards said. "Yes it is popular, but it has competition here [from other sports]. In other countries, it's a way of life and a religion. Although we have the biggest stadiums and the best press, parking and medical facilities, there are none laid out just for soccer. There was a question of whether a baseball team would give up a month or six weeks during the middle of their season opener to soccer. They [FIFA] feel it's a little premature at this time.

"Put everything aside, the pros and cons. On deadline, we did not include the government guarantees [of visas and foreign exchange, for example] and stadium guarantees. It did not meet a requirement. It had to be for everybody. Mexico did it."

On May 20, 1983 in Stockholm, Sweden, FIFA announced Mexico as the home country to the 1986 World Cup. "Mexico is a real soccer country," said Dr. Joao Havelange, FIFA president. "The United States and Canada are not ready for such a competition."

Not only did the U.S. not get the opportunity to host the 1986 World Cup, it could not qualify, further solidifying FIFA's reasoning.