FOX Soccer Exclusive
USA bid chief Downs feeling confident
The USA World Cup Bid Committee will travel to Zurich this week as one of five nations hoping to host the 2022 World Cup.
Thursday morning, the United States will either begin an eleven-year process to stage the world’s biggest and richest sporting event, or spend the next several years wondering what went wrong.
On paper, the American bid is most compelling, and the USA enters this critical week as odds-on favorites. But the Bid Committee is anything but overconfident. Mindful of the stunning collapse of another “sure-thing” bid this past year when Chicago's Olympic hopes were dashed, the USA has been circumspect as controversy has swirled around what all agree has been an opaque, and ethically challenged awards process.
David Downs speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York.AP Images
The leader of the USA’s Bid, David Downs, spoke exclusively to Fox Soccer on the eve of his team’s departure, where the Americans will make their final push, press the flesh, and then await the verdict.
This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jamie Trecker.
Fox Soccer: Where does the American bid stand on the eve of the vote?
Downs: We think we’re in great shape. We felt back in May that we had put together a very good bid on paper, and our momentum since then has increased. We think our lobbying effort has been very good, and we were pleased with the FIFA inspection visit. We think it was well executed and that FIFA highlighted all the right things. We got the evaluation reports, and they pretty much read as we had expected. For all those reasons, we’re feeling quite good. That said, we’re well aware that this is a political process and not a college exam, or a business negotiation. Just the fact that we’ve done all our homework and delivered everything doesn’t mean that we have to win the Cup.
Fox Soccer: Why should the USA get the World Cup?
Downs: There’s so many reasons. First and foremost, we cannot lose sight of the fact this is a very important tournament, not only for FIFA, but for us and the entire world. We present a very low risk, because our stadiums are first class, our hotels, our airports and our roads are great, and that’s a huge component of any bid. It may be obvious, but it’s important. There are also short term and long-term economic benefits, and fact that we can run this tournament so inexpensively makes our bid very attractive. We don’t have to build stadiums, or roads -- we have them.
We also think that the chance to grow the American soccer market will have global impact. This is stunning, but we’ve had 160 international exhibition matches in the USA for five years running, now, and that shows you what the appetite is, and that appetite for soccer here has world-wide ramifications. We think that if we host the Cup, the growing demographic changes we’re seeing in our country, and the new global access to soccer and soccer media, will result in just enormous growth here and around the world.
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Finally, FIFA has a pretty broad social agenda, and they use their power and prestige to foster social and environmental practices. A strength of our bid that I think has been overlooked a little, is that because we won’t have to spend so much time marketing tickets for the Cup, that we can focus more on fostering these programs. We think the USA has damn good track record of helping where help is required, from both the public and private sector, and the energy we can put into it combined with the appetite for the Cup and the sport will really help boost these efforts and programs. It’s really a unique opportunity.
Fox Soccer: A number of other bids -- Spain and Qatar come to mind -- publicly claim they have locked up a large number votes ahead of Thursday’s decision.
Downs: It’s very hard for us to comment on that, honestly. The fact of the matter is that voters are, appropriately, being very discreet about any allegiances.
Fox Soccer: The Americans are being called the leaders for 2022 by bookmakers. Can you comment upon that?
Downs: Actually, I don’t think it is relevant if people think we are the leaders or not. Our stance is that we are competent candidates. There are other candidates who are competent as well.
Fox Soccer: Obviously, with two members suspended in the wake of the bribery scandal, the voting pool has dropped from 24 voters to 22. Does that affect or impact the USA at all?
Downs: No, we don’t think so. The fact is, we didn’t know where those two votes would have gone, so it’s very difficult to say this it helps us or hurts us. From a technical standpoint, we now need 12 votes out of the 22, and maybe that makes it slightly more intimidating! But, on the overall situation, we are very confident that FIFA has looked into this situation thoroughly, and handled it appropriately.
Fox Soccer: Let’s talk about some specific things in the inspection reports. Interestingly, the report made more of the USA’s summer weather than one might have thought, given the fact that another leading candidate, Qatar, has summer temperatures in excess of 120ºF. Can you address this?
Downs: Yeah, the report made some mention of our weather, but it’s not something we’re concerned about, nor do we think it should be considered an impediment. Our bid has proposed more candidate cities than necessary, and so if there’s a city where FIFA feels the Cup might be affected by heat or rain, or perhaps the stadium is not enclosed, we have many alternates. We could stage an entire World Cup in venues where no temperature gets above 80ºF in the summer. Everyone has various weather issues -- some bidders have monsoon season, and heat; our position is that we have enormous flexibility. So, we don’t think it’s an issue.
Fox Soccer: FIFA also made note that some “government guarantees” had not been met. Can you elaborate on that?
Downs: Yeah, this is a good question, because a lot of reports have either misread what FIFA told us, or misunderstood the emphasis. What FIFA asks is that the guarantees not be edited in any way, shape or form. But, given the laws in the United States, some of those guarantees are not possible in the way they have their forms written. We have all our paperwork signed off on by either the relevant cabinet officials and, in several cases, President Obama, but we had to make modifications that correspond to facts of life here in the USA with regards to our Constitution.
Let me give two examples: One of the guarantees is in the telecommunications area, and FIFA asks that the government guarantees high quality availability to all participants at a competitive price, and they wanted the FCC to sign off on that. The thing is we have that, and the FCC serves to foster fair competition under our laws, but they can’t decree that. Another is intellectual property. I think most people would agree [the USA] has extremely vigorous guarantees on intellectual property rights, and we have these protections, but the way the form from FIFA read would, in effect, rewrite our Constitution, and the government cannot sign off on that.
So, we went back to FIFA, and explained these modifications, and they understood that. FIFA also has made special note of the fact that we’ve hosted the World Cup and two Women’s World Cups, and the Olympics, and they are not in general terribly concerned about these modifications. The fact of the matter is the government is fully behind this bid.
Fox Soccer: Well, let’s expand on that a little, because there has been some concern that after the most recent elections here, that some guarantees might not be met. Is that concern founded?
Downs: We haven’t gotten any feedback from FIFA that way, no. From a domestic political perspective, this bid is and has been a bipartisan effort. Both the House and the Senate passed resolutions supporting the bid, as recently as this past week, and we’ve had tremendous support all the way. I think the USA’s image abroad is relatively unchanged, and I think people say that Obama is still the president, our policies are going to be dictated by him, and both sides of the aisle have supported this [bid] with the vote a week away. That bipartisanship is a little rare these days, and in fact, it’s something we’re pretty proud of with this bid.
Fox Soccer: What happens on Thursday night if the USA gets the bid? Where will the process go from here?
Downs: Well, we’d start right way. Obviously, we wouldn’t need the huge staff over the next eleven years that we have right now, but we would form the local organizing committee in the first quarter of 2011, and then we have six years to finalize the cities and the stadiums. FIFA has deadlines in mind, of course, but, you know, we’d also have some fun! It would be great for the sport and great for the cities.
Fox Soccer: Eleven years is a long way out -- do you really need that long?
Downs: Well, no. Remember, we were bidding for 2018 or 2022 when we started, and we said all along that we said we didn’t need all this time to get ready for staging it. That said, the idea that we could have the World Cup on the horizon, and steadily growing sponsor and media interest as we approach it, is actually a really nice thing to have. That would be a great asset and we want to take full advantage of it. It also could mean that a kid who is 12 years old kicking the ball this week could be in the World Cup in 2022! That’s really inspirational.
Fox Soccer: And if you don’t get it?
Downs: If we don’t, we don’t. It’s been an incredible experience and a great process, and I think we’ve all learned so much. No matter what happens, we have no regrets.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League, European and world football.