Thank you very much President Blatter, members of the Executive Committee. To those of you whom I had the pleasure of meeting in South Africa it’s good to see you again and I hope your time will permit those I did not meet to visit with me a little while I am here.
I’d also like to say a word of appreciation and respect to the countries who are competing with the United States for this bid. I have reviewed the outlines of your proposals, and as a competitor, I’m sorry to say I found them all rather persuasive. I honor your devotion to your nations and to this cause.
It is my privilege to serve as the honorary chairman of the U.S. bid. You have already heard from our President, Barack Obama, who fully committed the United States government to the bid. Attorney General Eric Holder is here with us and if there are any specific questions you have about any matter unresolved in your mind relating to those commitments, he is in a position to answer them.
One of our finest players, Landon Donovan, has made his case. I think more by the power of his example than the persuasive words he spoke. Landon shows where soccer will go in America’s future. He’s just a little younger than my daughter and their generation was really the first generation of Americans to embrace soccer at a young age.
I still remember going to watch Chelsea play when she was six and seven years old, thinking that something magical was about to happen in America because finally we had a sport that you could play with a ball and a pair of shoes, that you didn’t need a lot of expensive equipment to play, that every American without regard to income or background could participate in.
That first generation are all grown now, there are millions more of them to support this World Cup than there were in 1994 when we set the attendance records. My great friend Morgan Freeman has told you about the diversity of America, which you saw in the film. I’d like to be more specific. Those cities that were up there, several of those cities have residents within the cities from more than 150 different nations. A majority of them have residents in the counties in which they’re located from more than 100 nations.
I tell everyone that maybe America’s best claim to this World Cup is that we have the only nation you can put the World Cup that can guarantee that no matter who makes the finals we can fill a stadium with home nation rooters.
In the magnificent game that the United States fought with Ghana and lost in South Africa, afterward, most Americans were heartbroken. But, in Miami, Florida there is a Ghanaian bar that was full on that night of Ghanaian Americans wrapped in the flag of their native land cheering as they all said for the only time against the United States.
In Philadelphia, where there is a sizeable Ghanaian community but not large enough to support a bar, an Irish bar gave them safe haven and the Ghanaians came there to cheer for their team. I make this point because I think it’s important that all the teams who come to any World Cup venue feel that they too, are playing at home. Not just for people watching on television.
Sunil Gulati has given the last 26 years of his life to growing the sport of football in America with the tremendous results he outlined. I trust his vision of the future because he has made the last 26 years happen in America.
I’d like to use my remaining time to put this discussion into the larger context of FIFA’s mission. Since I left office about 10 years ago, I have worked all over the world through my foundation. On building health systems in thirty developing nations, on selling the world’s least expensive AIDS medicine in 70 countries, providing life -saving medicine to about half of the people in the developing world who get it, 70 percent of the children who are alive because of it.
We work on fighting climate change in economically beneficial ways in countries with very low income like Tanzania and the wealthiest countries of the world who are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, increase their national security and strengthen their employment base.
We work on sustainable development and education and health and job creation in Latin America and Africa. We fight childhood obesity and help inner city entrepreneurs in the United States. All over the world people come at the opening of the United Nations to the Clinton Global Initiative every year to build a network of givers, private citizens committing to do public good.
I try to help when asked in natural disasters. I have worked for two years for the United Nations to help rebuild Ache in Indonesia and the rest of South Asia after the tsunami and it is now my great honor to be the co-chairman of the interim reconstruction commission in Haiti. Perhaps the hardest and most challenging but in some cases the most rewarding work I have done.
My work has taken me to more than 100 countries since I left office and everywhere I have seen the power of football to lift people up and bring them together across the lines that would otherwise divide them.
I know in his remarkable book How Soccer Explains the World Franklin Foer says that it basically is an arena for tribal combat short of war. Doubtless it is in some places, but that has not been my experience. My experience with football is on a simple field in Zambia. Where I saw several teams of young Zambians coming together in a tournament to promote greater awareness of and support for prevention of HIV and AIDS.
My experience includes one of our global initiative partners --Playing for Peace. Bringing together Arab and Israeli children in the Middle East to play football together in the hopes they would learn to understand one another, like one another, and work for a common future and in Northern Ireland and in Cyprus.
My experience is seeing every day, all across America millions of young children take to a soccer field during school recess or after school. Building not only teamwork, but building a healthy lifestyle to fight our number one public health problem in America, childhood obesity.
In South Africa, a country I know well and love I saw the dream of hosting the World Cup lift the esteem of a whole country when they proved they could pull it off and it gave them a whole different take on what is possible, not only for South Africa but for the entire African continent.
The unifying power of this game to address the major challenges of the 21st century world, with all of its inter-dependence, to reduce its inequalities and instabilities, to transform it into a place of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities is enormous. It’s the main reason I agreed to do this work on the American committee.
I believe that FIFA is the main reason that soccer has become a unifying force in the world and not just an arena for tribal combat. I believe your commitment to make every World Cup something more than the contest of the game. To address the larger challenges that all of the players and their families and their fellow country men and women face back home is one of the defining characteristics of this organization. And I believe the United States is perhaps in the best position to support you in fulfilling that mission.
Consider this, after the earthquake in Haiti, which is the poorest country in our hemisphere, where even before the quake, 75 percent of the people were living on less than two dollars a day and 85 percent of the people had no electricity in their homes. More than half of the families in a nation of more than 300 million people actually gave some money to help the people of Haiti survive the emergency and begin to rebuild their country.
FIFA’s social responsibility mission deserves to be supported every bit as much as the games. You have committed to providing clean water to five million people, if you come to the United States we’ll make sure you meet that commitment and exceed it.
The state of the art facilities, the infrastructure already in place and already discussed and the enthusiasm of our people will allow you to focus your energies on making sure everybody in the world enjoys the games and making sure your broader agenda is realized.
You won’t have to worry about construction deadlines or ticket sales. Even in 2010 in South Africa the United States citizens accounted for the second largest block of purchased tickets after South Africans. You will be free to elevate this game as never before and show how it can make the world a better place. I hope you will bring the World Cup to the United States.
I have now been to four of them. The one I will never forget, the opening game in 1994 in Chicago in the United States, in 1999 Mia Hamm’s team winning that astonishing game at the last moment with the last kick in California and in South Africa and before in Germany. There is something magical about it.
But now that you are committed to moving the world through the games and beyond, I hope you will consider the potential we have to ensure that you succeed. If you give us the honor, we’ll do our best.
Thank you very much.