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Gulati: 'It's impossible not to be impressed ...'
by Paul Kennedy, September 10th, 2010 1:46PM

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TAGS:  world cup 2022


[WORLD CUP 2018/22 BID] U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, the chairman of the USA Bid Committee, called the FIFA inspection tour to evaluate the U.S. bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups "a very successful trip." He said it was impossible not to be impressed with the five NFL stadiums the FIFA inspectors saw. In particular, he say they were "overwhelmed" by the Cowboys Stadium that opened in Arlington, Texas, last year. Here's what Gulati had to say Friday morning ...

SUNIL GULATI
“It’s an important part of the process in bidding for the World Cup and in many ways the next to last formal part of the process, the last part being presentations on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, before an eventual decision on Dec. 2. We had great receptions in the five cities that we were in starting with an event on Monday night [in New York] with Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg hosting and ending in Houston with Mayor Parker and Bob McNair hosting us at Reliant Stadium. All in all, we were able to look at five prospective venues, prospective stadia for the World Cup, multiple training camp sites, multiple congress or IBC sites, international broadcast center sites, at convention centers throughout the country and met with a number of government officials across those five cities in four states as well as D.C. with a breakfast at the White House with senior leadership from the Obama administration. All in all, I think it was a very successful trip. We were able to show FIFA the things they needed to see. I think in many cases they knew what we were capable of. It’s impossible not to be impressed by some of the magnificent NFL stadiums that they were able to see on this trip.”

On Sepp Blatter’s comments about the Executive Committee being determined to have the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe:
“It didn’t come up in the visit. I did see the interview, and as I said all along, we would certainly listen and have the appropriate conversations with the FIFA president [Blatter] and the UEFA president [Michel Platini] at the right time. We haven’t been asked to withdraw but I acknowledge, and we have really from the beginning, that there is a sentiment with a number of members of the ExCo that 2018 should be in Europe and if at some point between now and Dec. 2 we think it’s in our best interest to do that, after consultation with the FIFA president or the UEFA president, then we would make that decision.”

On whether he sensed any concern on the stadiums, particularly with the width of the field:
“Every bid has certain issues they have to deal with between now and a prospective World Cup. We obviously knew that some of the NFL stadiums aren’t configured as they exist now for FIFA World Cup dimensions. In our submission to FIFA, we have guaranteed them that we could get to that level, the stadiums have assured us of that. So we did discuss it on this trip but all of our venues can get to 75 yards, 68 meters, and what we also talked about yesterday was, in any case where we thought it was prohibitive to do that for any reason, we have 18 cities, 20 venues as part of our bid process. I don’t think that’s an issue. We’ve assured them that we will get to FIFA international dimensions and can do that in a cost-effective way, and if for any reason that was an issue, we have alternatives.”

On the inspection delegation’s response to seeing Cowboys Stadium:
“I can give you their response and mine, which was overwhelming. It was the first time I had been in the stadium and watching the reaction of the FIFA members, I would say they were overwhelmed as well. It is an extraordinary stadium. Jerry Jones personally welcomed the group, personally walked them around the stadium, had the end doors, that’s not the right way to describe it given the size of the doors that we’re talking about, opened up. We played a video on that enormous scoreboard that you’ve all seen and heard so much about. It is a phenomenal stadium and it would be impossible not to be impressed with that. On this trip, we were able to show them five different stadiums in five different stages of their existence. In the case of Cowboys Stadium and Giants Stadium, two stadiums that have been finished in the last year to 18 months, in the case of Reliant Stadium that is now, 6,7,8 years old, and then two older stadiums, but in the two older stadiums, extraordinary renovations that have gone on during the last decade. That’s obviously SunLife and FedEx. While Dallas is overwhelming, we showed them a number of impressive stadiums.”

On how the delegation responded to the training facilities visited and what was discussed and inspected during the three-day tour:
“The primary areas that they look at are the hotel issues, logistical hotel issues, stadium issues, airport issues, training field issues, government support, and what you’re doing in a very short tour is getting some sense of all of those things. In our case, some of the members of the group have been to some of our stadiums. I think some of the logistical issues aren’t as much of a concern in the United States as they might be in some other places so it was less about those. So, when you walk and see the facilities in an NFL stadium, whether it’s locker rooms, hospitality areas, all those things are important because they are an important part of running any big event. So in the same way you might look at a venue for a Super Bowl, you’re doing that except you’re doing in it in a very short period of time in multiple venues. I think of all those fronts, we were able to showcase some extraordinary venues.

“On the training sites, we showed them two training camp possibilities. One was Red Bull Park, which is an extraordinary soccer-specific stadium, and then George Mason. I didn’t go to the visit to Red Bull, but at George Mason we saw the University President, the team was practicing, you saw a phenomenal facility, a world class surface, a set of stands that can be completely secluded, almost perfect for what a national team would want around a World Cup. And we explained that around the United States we have multiple facilities, whether it’s because of universities, private schools or others that could accommodate the sorts of requirements for a training center. Those we’re very familiar with because it’s what our national team coaches have always wanted so we have a pretty good understanding of that. That’s the importance of the training facility issue.”

On whether he got a sense of what the greatest concerns were for the inspection delegation:
“We did have some private conversations on things that I thought we could make improvements in. We talked about the stadium width issue, specifically as it relates to sight lines. They understood, for example, that the quality of the playing surface in some of the venues now is not what we would have at the World Cup, but we discussed that. We’ve always known that in an open society like the United States, there are things that we can’t do and certain things that we can do, so we had a frank discussion about government guarantees, those sorts of issues. Security is an issue for everyone and that’s true for any major international event. But I think they recognize that we’ve dealt with all of those issues, whether it was during the previous World Cup, whether it’s in our Olympic proposals, certainly in this bid proposal or in events that happen all of the time. When you can show them an NFL stadium that has 70 or 80,000 people in it eight to 10 times a year, plus playoffs in certain cases, I think that’s a pretty good starting point.”

On whether China’s potential bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2026 might help the USA Bid:
“That never crossed my mind when I asked to take a picture with [Yao Ming]. It’s a decision for FIFA to consider all the long-term implications. Down the road, China has indicated that they’d be interested in hosting a World Cup. Yao was with us, obviously, on behalf of the city of Houston. How that plays into decisions that FIFA may make for 2018 and 2022 remains to be seen, but I don’t think anyone would doubt that China would make a great host in the future for the World Cup, especially after what they did with the Olympic Games and the growth and size of the economy.”

On the idea of creating a legacy from hosting a World Cup:
“What I can talk about is the legacy of the 1994 World Cup to the international game and to the U.S. soccer scene, and what another World Cup in, within my analogy, the second half of a 50-year plan would do. If you look at what has changed in the landscape since 1994, and the inspection team went out of their way to bring that up, all those changes, whether it was the existence of Major League Soccer or soccer-specific stadiums, and one of them said that we need to tell this story more frequently, what’s happened since 1994. I talk about the spectators in South Africa from the U.S. and television rights payments for the World Cup. I think the legacy for the World Cup, in a country the size of the United States, has been extraordinary since 1994 and a World Cup in 2018 or 2022 would take it to heights that would be overwhelming, frankly, both for the U.S. and internationally the effects would be very positive.”

On the importance of the Miami site:
“Miami was one of the proposed sites for the World Cup [in 1994]. Mr. Robbie was an important supporter of the bid effort and built, at the time, Joe Robbie Stadium with the World Cup in mind. It was, and is, wide enough to host World Cup games without modification. What changed in Miami’s case that put Miami out of contention was a baseball team and that changed the dynamics. With the baseball team leaving after next year, Miami comes back into contention. Joe Robbie was a huge part of our efforts in 1988 to bring the World Cup to the U.S. Obviously, having a baseball team for close to 20 years with 81 dates per year was a pretty strong economic incentive versus having games in 1994. We think Miami would be a great venue. We had a great visit a couple of days ago that looked at a number of places like the convention center and some other parts of the city, so it is very much a candidate at this point.”

On how much the technical inspection matters to the FIFA Executive Committee:
“I think virtually all decisions in our lives, when there are candidates or elections, come down to the ability to convince people. This was a technical inspection tour. They will write a report addressing a number of issues, pros and cons. They will not be saying we should go to country “X” or “Y”. Their report will go to the 24 people that are going to make this decision. How much it impacts those 24 people I think is on a case-by-case basis. Some will be very strong supporters of a country regardless of what the report says. Others will be influenced by it, but to what degree I can’t predict. The presentations, obviously, are the next formal part of the process but that is a day before the final decision. Clearly some people will have made decisions between now and then, or have al ready made decisions. CONCACAF, for example, because they are supporting our bid, is unlikely to be swayed by something that is slightly negative in any report because they are very much committed to us. That’s also true of some Executive Committee members who may be committed to other candidates.”

On how much is known about the voting procedures:
“We did not discuss that at all with the group that was here. We expect to get some clarification on that when the FIFA Executive Committee meets in October.”

On whether there were any local transportation issues in any of the cities:
“It was discussed. In any of the venues that didn’t have public transportation, it was discussed because it’s an important part of what a World Cup audience might look like. The typical experience of an NFL game, where many people are driving and tailgating, may not be what a World Cup audience looks like. So, we did talk about that, either on existing infrastructure like light rail, heavy rail, subway or whatever it might be. We also talked about solutions that might be available on a short-term basis. Buses, for example, are used for a Super Bowl when so much parking is used for ancillary events. They use hundreds of buses. [We discussed] any public sector plans between now and 2018 or 2022, and there are plans in some of these cities, to add light rail transport. So, it’s an issue that was raised and discussed and I think we had the appropriate answers on those questions.”

On whether it is an advantage or disadvantage that the United States is such a large country during a whirlwind tour:
“The advantages are obvious. We’ve got 18 cities that we’ve put forth as possible candidates. That gives us extraordinary flexibility. We have multiple stadiums that could meet FIFA’s requirements for a World Cup final or opening game. Very few candidates can promise that. We have multiple cities that are capable of hosting international broadcast centers, a FIFA Congress or World Cup Draw. Those are all positives. Clearly the distances involved are different than they would be in other candidates that could have shown them more, but we were showing them facilities that exist. We weren’t showing any architectural diagrams except for when a stadium needed slight modification on width or anything else. Any bid has some positives and some weaknesses. We were able to get to five cities pretty quickly and we could have done one more if we cut out some of the things that we saw within those cities. I think it was a very good trip and a positive for us.”

On the importance of fan fest venues in some of the markets:
“We can talk about some of the places we’ve posed as possible fan fest venues. At the Washington Monument we obviously talked about the mall which, for so many reasons, would be an extraordinary place for a fan fest. In Houston we looked at a site across from the convention center that is downtown and has been used for events in the past. In Miami we showed them a site that would be along the water on the beach, which would be quite special. We can all think of, in any of these cities that we might be familiar with, specifically some of the great public spaces that exist. Being most familiar with New York, I can certainly think of a number of places in New York that would be terrific candidates for a fan fest. Eventually we’ll be talking about cities that aren’t in our bid as well, to allow cities that aren’t involved directly to host fan fests as well. Lastly, I think it comes down to the fact that 12 or eight years ago even, the concept and the importance of fan fests wasn’t known to anyone. Germany did an extraordinary job and it’s now become an important part of the World Cup experience. We’re not sure what might be extraordinarily important in an add-on to the World Cup, whether it’s technology, public viewing or whatever it might be. One of the advantages and strengths of our bid is that we’ve got the flexibility to adapt to virtually any situation that might come up if FIFA wants to move in a particular direction. We think we’ve got the ability to do that.”



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