The last time the FIFA World Cup Draw was conducted in Brazil was on May 22, 1949, in Rio de Janeiro, one year in advance of the 1950 FIFA World Cup.
When the draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup is conducted on Friday, Dec. 6, in Costa do Sauipe in the Brazilian state of Bahia (ESPN2, ESPN3, Univision and Univision Deportes Network), the location won’t be the only thing that is different 64 years later.
The draw started out as a rather small ceremony at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, and was simply done to determine the World Cup schedule. By the 1950 World Cup, FIFA decided to move it out of its headquarters, but it was hardly a spectacle.
In Association Football, written by Willy Meisl in 1960, the 1949 World Cup Draw was conducted “in the presence of many ministers, ambassadors and other prominent personalities, the draw was carried out in the Brazilian Foreign Office.”
No media. No television broadcast. No hoopla.
This time around, millions of people will watch with baited breath as the live television feed of the event will be beamed to all corners of the world. And even since 1990, the modern era for U.S. Soccer, the draw has continued to develop into a big-time extravaganza.
“It’s much more a Hollywood production these days than it was (in 1990),” said Bob Gansler, who coached the U.S. Men’s National Team at Italia ’90. “I remember going to the hotel and seeing the folks from Germany, Italy, England, Holland, and other countries, walking the lobby. Other than that, it was a matter of going to a big conference area and watching the proceedings the way we watch now on television. There was no press conference that I can recall, no social get-together before or after. It was just a matter of watching the folks do their magic on stage in terms of putting the groups together.”
Now, there is much more to digest about the event. The World Cup draw is more than a 25-minute process to place the 32 finalists in eight groups for the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.
The draw has become a three-day festival of soccer, which includes some political intrigue, some (or a lot of) controversy, the sport’s most visible personalities (past and present), some well-known entertainers, some back room dealings here and there and sometimes a little football thrown in, for good measure.
“It really is more than who’s going to play whom,” said former U.S. Soccer secretary general Hank Steinbrecher, who has attended several draws, including
two in official U.S. Soccer capacity in 1994 and 1998. “It’s a marketing tool to get the world really interested and hyped for the World Cup. It’s a lot
more than just ‘OK, let’s pick a name out of a hat and see who plays each other.’ There is so much pomp and circumstance with it right now that it is an
event that is separate onto itself, almost like the march onto the field with the Olympics. It is a highly promotional deal. It is covered by everyone and
everywhere. It helps build that marketing crescendo for when the World Cup actually kicks off.”
Steinbrecher and the United States Local Organizing Committee certainly played a vital role in transforming the draw from a little ceremony into a larger-than-life event by hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup Draw at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
The luminaries included Robin Williams and James Brown, who provided the entertainment, actor Jeff Bridges, women’s soccer legend Michelle Akers, and Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, who aided in the actual draw itself.
“We needed to market the World Cup,” said Steinbrecher. “Let’s face it. Two weeks before the World Cup, people were saying it was not going to be successful. We knew we had to market it. That’s why we had such great entertainment. That’s why we had it in Vegas. You had to generate press and coverage and we needed help doing that.
“We might have been the ones who changed the paradigm of instead of going to FIFA House and drawing to see who’s going to play one another. Let’s make this a separate, independent profitable venture. Now it’s a whole incredible production.”
From a sporting perspective, Bruce Arena, the only man to coach the United States in two World Cups (2002 and 2006), the draw gives something back to the coaches who toiled to get their team into soccer’s promised land.
“It’s a reward for everyone,” Arena said. “Thirty-two teams have worked real hard to be part of the World Cup. It’s a proud moment for everyone. In general, I think going to the draw has been an enjoyable and rewarding experience – until they start picking your name out of the hat.”
Once the teams are selected and you know your opponents, that is when the work begins.
“There are obviously some negotiations behind the scenes, talking to teams about friendly games or closed-door competitions when you’re in Brazil for preparation,” Arena said. “At this point of time, all of the countries know where they’re staying (during the World Cup). That’s pretty much done.”
As the spectacle of the draw has changed, so too has the competitiveness of the field, which looks more balanced heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw. Arena said that he recently spoke with Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who told Arena that this year’s draw could feature “three or four groups of death.”
“Everyone at this point of time is a little nervous about the draw,” Arena said. “This time around, it looks like it’s going to be really challenging for everyone, including the host country.”