Chuck Blazer on the U.S. loss

[WORLD CUP 2022] A week after the vote by the FIFA executive committee to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar over the United States and three other bidders, Chuck Blazer, the lone American on the executive committee that selected the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, finds himself in the Gulf. Blazer is the chairman of the FIFA organizing committee for the 2010 Club World Cup being played in Abu Dhabi. He spoke at length with Soccer America about what we can learn from the outcome ...

"It was disappointing because I know how hard people had worked, including myself, to bring home a result," Blazer says. "And when you realize in the end it didn't have much of a chance because it had little to do with what we were saying and more on how things are in the world, it's kind of a hard thing to reconcile."

Blazer, a member of the FIFA executive committee since 1996 and general secretary of New York-based Concacaf, says the turning point in both the 2018 and 2022 races was not anything any of the bidders did but what happened in South Africa this summer.

"In the simplest form," he says, "we were very successful in South Africa. It was successful in a place where even though we went there we weren't that certain we'd be successful. The event went very well. The stadiums were finished in the end. All the things that needed to get done finally got done. It was a hard process to get there, but nonetheless the event was very, very successful from a TV, marketing, worldwide perspective. Everyone came away from it saying, 'Wow, what a great World Cup in South Africa.' And having done it there, it gave reason for everyone in the world to say, 'We can do it here.' No longer was it reserved for only for the big countries in Europe and the Americas."

It changed the dynamics of both races, the favorites for which a year ago would have been the USA and England.

"Look, I voted for Russia," says Blazer, whose travel blog features a story on his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last summer as well as photos of Putin's vacation. "England clearly had a great bid. But in the end, I look at England and say, 'What more would we have when we're finished than what I am certain would have been a great World Cup?' I believe that when we're finished in Russia, we'll have accomplished a lot of different things."

Blazer says the World Cup is an opportunity for massive investment in sports facilities, infrastructure, hotels and the like, but at least just an important, an opportunity to broaden relations -- political, social and cultural -- between Russia and the West.

"We can open up a market that is important from a world perspective," he says.

Qatar -- the first World Cup in the Middle East, the first World Cup hosted by a Muslim country -- offers many of the same opportunities.

Blazer doesn't want to take anything away from the Qatar victory. "They ran a very, very good campaign," he says. "Eleven [executive committee members] voted for them in the first round." But he feels there were too many obstacles with Qatar despite the tremendous amount of investment they were making.

"I still feel heat is an obstacle that they won't overcome in the time frame in which we hope it will," he says.

With average temperatures of 107 degrees in the summer, Qatar 2022 has proposed air-conditioning stadiums and other World Cup-related facilities, but it produced one of the memorable lines of the bid campaign, Blazer's remark to the Wall Street Journal in mid-November: "You can air-condition a stadium, but I don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."

(Since the Dec. 2 announcement, discussion of moving the 2022 World Cup from the summer to the winter has picked up steam. On Thursday, Peter Velappan, the former general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation said air conditioners were "not a solution" and posed the possibility of a European boycott. "Qatar is a nice country," Velappan said, "but there is no way football can be played in June and July there. No player will ever want to play in these conditions.")

Blazer doesn't know the answer. "Who knows? By then, we may be going around with air-conditioned suits."

The virtue of a U.S. World Cup bid was that it offered huge revenues that could essentially be guaranteed for FIFA, whose other soccer tournaments, grants to confederations and member associations and development programs are all subsidized by the World Cup. After South Africa, Brazil 2014 offers more uncertainty.

"It would have been nice," Blazer says, "to find solutions, whether it was England or the U.S. in that mix, where it would not have an issue with the incomes."

But it wasn't meant to be.

"If you look you at the votes -- one for Australia, two for England, three for the USA in the first round, a total of six votes out of a potential of 44 votes -- there didn't seem much of a taste for these places," says Blazer.

One factor that worked against the United States, whose bid was funded by U.S. Soccer and sponsors, was the extremes to which other bidders -- namely, the two winners -- generated the backing of their governments.

"There is no way that Russia could have conceived of bidding for the World Cup without the level of absolute commitment of the government, which they showed with a very forthright plan that had the support from the top levels of the government," says Blazer. "Certainly, Qatar took it all to another level. The question really comes down to, how do you create a level playing field for bidders going forward?"

World Cup bidding campaigns were mild contests until the mid-1990s when South Korea mounted a remarkable campaign -- backed by the giants of Korean industry -- to overtake rival Japan and force a compromise that resulted in the first and only co-hosted World Cup, in 2002. But there has never been a campaign like the one of Qatar, the first one in which sovereign wealth was used -- to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We've never had this problem up until now," says Blazer.

The other factor that worked against the United States is its standing in the world.

"I think our image has changed in the last decade," Blazer says. "It impacts us as well. Clearly, our image is different, and in dealing with members of the executive committee over the last decade, there has been a change in the nature of how we are perceived."

Blazer credited the USA Bid Committee with making a strong bid in the face of the excesses of the winning Qatari bid. "You have to give a tremendous amount of credit to [U.S. Soccer President and bid chairman] Sunil [Gulati] and his group for doing things the right way."

Still, as he left the meeting room in Zurich where the executive committee voted on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Blazer says he thought a U.S. victory was possible. He says it wasn't until FIFA President Sepp Blatter pulled the name of Russia out of the envelope with the 2018 winner that he figured Qatar had won the 2022 race.

How Qatar 2022 bid president Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani knew to announce the Qatar victory at least a half an hour earlier on Al-Jazeera remains a mystery, the explanation to which Blazer puts down to how Mohamed Bid Hammam, the Qatari member of the executive committee, managed to count his votes.

"This was a very well managed campaign," says Blazer.

And at 14-8, a very comfortable victory.

24 comments about "Chuck Blazer on the U.S. loss".
  1. Thomas Fouce, December 10, 2010 at 7:59 a.m.

    I find it interesting that the fact that US Soccer is able to run a World Cup with less government involvement than Qatar or Russia is seen as a negative when FIFA always seem to get their panties in a bunch at any hint of government or political involvement in the sport. Strange. The whole "legacy" aspect of the bidding process is a bunch of hot air. I would love to see UEFA invite the top 2 teams from the other confederations to participate in Euro Cup. That would pretty much end the World Cup.

  2. David Smith, December 10, 2010 at 8:24 a.m.

    If it is so obvious now that FIFA wanted both World Cups in "new frontiers", why did the US even bother to bid? Is US Soccer (Blazer, Gulati, et al.) completely out of touch with the goings on at FIFA? How could they not have known about this "new frontier" preference before spending tens of millions of dollars on what was apparently a doomend bid from the start?

  3. Heather Scott-molleda, December 10, 2010 at 8:27 a.m.

    Leaving aside for a minute the rampant corruption under Blatter's FIFA, I give them credit for moving the tournament to new frontiers. But in that case let's just end the charade of an open bid system. Just rotate the World Cup among confederations on a pre-announced schedule and let their members duke it out for the right to host. That would be more transparent and save money and time for everyone else.

  4. David Smith, December 10, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

    I really think our media need to hold US Soccer more accountable. All the criticism is directed at the "corrupt" FIFA Executive Committee members and how their votes were likely bought. While that may be true, why has nothing been written about why we bothered to submit an astonishingly expensive bid if FIFA's preferece all along was to give the WC to "new frontiers"? The same criticism could be directed to the clueless English FA, but their press seems to be doing a better job of holding their feet to the fire, while US Soccer seems to be getting a free pass.

  5. Chelsea Guy, December 10, 2010 at 9:48 a.m.

    I agree with Heather. Why go through the charade of a bidding process that is so corrupt, so arrogant and has so much discrimination against the “big countries” as Blazer called them. Blatter was quoted as saying the English bid suffered from “Western Arrogance”. I question FIFA’s legitimacy as an organization. It’s time to dissolve the current board and get some new minds, refreshed perspectives and more ethical individuals. The fact that all of these countries wasted millions of dollars on these efforts that as Blazer states doomed from the very beginning… Shows complete arrogance on Blatter and the rest of the FIFA board. Time for change…

  6. Gus Keri, December 10, 2010 at 9:54 a.m.

    It's strange to me now Mr Blazer justified the selection of Russia over England and not Qatar over the USA. I applaude FIFA for trying to be inclusive and not exclusive. There should be no monopoly for the superpowers to host any sporting event. And about income-generating, We all know that most of the money comes from TV revenue, and in the near future, from the internet, regardless where the tournament being held. Also, I don't like it when the powerful clubs dictate how FIFA should run their tournaments. FIFA should be able to play the cup at any time of the year and the clubs should follow. These clubs are forgetting that their fans are also fans of the national teams and should accomodate to help these fans enjoy the world cup.

  7. David Huff, December 10, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.

    So will we see a "new frontier" such as Antartica in the future? Will we be able to "heat" the whole continent? Will we even want to? Willo the locals (i.e. penguins) object? Stay tuned for the next strange chapter of the "FIFA Chronicles".

  8. David Smith, December 10, 2010 at 10:40 a.m.

    I think all soccer fans should embrace the WC in Qatar (and Russia). If money and favors were traded for votes, that's only because FIFA condoned that type of behavior. We should be focusing our efforts on making FIFA's voting process more transparent, while continuing to question how US Soccer could have been so naive as to think we stood a chance.

  9. Mike Gaynes, December 10, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    I'm astonished that Blazer voted for Russia. That will certainly be a "new frontier"... a World Cup built by, and lining the pockets of, the oligarchs and organized crime lords who will command the process, particularly the massive construction required. And it will certainly be a "new frontier" to see a World Cup played in front of the infamously racist Russian fans. If the host nation draws Ghana or Ivory Coast in the first round, we'll all be treated to mass monkey imitations (accompanied by cascades of bananas) that will make the South African vuvuzelas sound like Mozart in retrospect. Just ask Peter Odemwingie and Welliton how they've been treated by their own fans at Lokomotiv and Spartak -- that's a fractional preview of what we'll be watching in eight years. Blazer gets no blaze of glory for this vote.

  10. David Huff, December 10, 2010 at 12:09 p.m.

    One thing that should be done by FIFA in light of their "new frontier" approach is to abolish Europe's "every other WC" monopoly to give others a chance. But to expect FIFA to be consistent and fair is almost like asking them to be . . . financially transparent?

  11. Ted Westervelt, December 10, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    If you don't take my word about the obese elephant in the room, take it from the CBC:

    MLS irks Blatter.

    The U.S. bid is watertight and would make money, lots of money. No problem trying to sell tickets to the locals who could not afford them. No issues about selling them on-line to impoverished fans without access to a personal computer.

    But Blatter is not satisfied with the razzmatazz of an American-style World Cup. Something irks the most powerful man in world football. He likes things done the old-fashioned way. He doesn't like Major League Soccer, its conferences, its playoffs or its lack of promotion and relegation.

    In short, Blatter doesn't think it's a 'proper' league. According to Garber, the FIFA president, when introduced to U.S. President Obama, inquired as to when America would adopt a more traditional approach. MLS is a metaphorical boil Blatter would like to lance.

    Most of all though, Blatter doesn't like being ignored. And MLS has ignored FIFA for most of its entire existence. It has routinely played on through FIFA international dates and World Cups, while the rest of the football world respectfully takes a break.

    Yet this year MLS closed down for a couple of weeks during the group stages of the 2010 World Cup. The commissioner has recently been making positive noises about falling into line with FIFA dates. Now he's ready to explore the possibility of a fall-to-spring season with an enforced winter break.

  12. Mark Grody, December 10, 2010 at 12:43 p.m.

    1. As of a year ago, the USA was considered the front runner, so I don't agree with the complaints about it being a waste of time to bid.

    2. If South Africa had gone badly, the risk of Qatar would have been seen much more than the reward.
    First Middle East & first Muslim country host.

    Awarding four "risky" WCs in a row is a bit surprising, unless you factor in that Australia, England, or the USA could host at a drop of a hat if something goes wrong. Sorta how we got '94 anyway.

    Lastly, I look forward to the Russians either getting better on the national racism front or embarrassing themselves as back water hicks.

  13. Ted Westervelt, December 10, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    Read more:

  14. Mark Grody, December 10, 2010 at 12:46 p.m.

    MLS irks most soccer fans :)

  15. mark usher, December 10, 2010 at 1:05 p.m.

    Look Chuck, here's all I can say about why the USA lost the 2022 bid:

    "USA clearly had a great bid. But in the end, I look at USA and say, 'What more would we have when we're finished than what I am certain would have been a great World Cup?' I believe that when we're finished in Qatar, we'll have accomplished a lot of different things."

    Would you say that was a fair assessment, Chuck?

  16. Mike Murray, December 10, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.

    Is there any reason to believe that Mr. Blazer is more candid or less corrupt than other members of the FIFA executive group? His comments here just muddy the waters.
    Russia is an iffy choice. Qatar is a joke. Outrage in the US isn't necessarily sour grapes: FIFA is a cartel that needs breaking up.

  17. David Smith, December 10, 2010 at 2:49 p.m.

    I think we should embrace the Qatar and Russia World Cups. Having them in the spotlight for 8 years (Russia) and 12 (Qatar) can only help improve their records regarding racism and corruption (Russia) and treatment of women and gays (Qatar). Even though I think having a WC in Qatar in the summer, or at all, is ridiculous, its a done deal. If Russia and Qatar bribed their way into winning, you can't really blame them, because FIFA basically condones such conduct.

  18. David Smith, December 10, 2010 at 2:53 p.m.

    The English press is doing an OK job going after the English FA for screwing up their bid. I mean, England sent their prime minister and the future King (and Beckham) and Russia sent no one of importance and Russia still won. Wake up. The system is corrupt. Play by the "rules" or don't play at all. But don't waste tens of millions of dollars submitting a bid destined to fail. I'd rather have those millions spent developing the game in the US rather than wasting it wining and dining corrupt FIFA exco members.

  19. Brian Herbert, December 10, 2010 at 5:01 p.m.

    Heather and Chelsea Guy nailed it: rotation of cups by federation would eliminate a lot of B.S. with that one simple change. If you also wrote in a revenue sharing deal between all countries within a host federation, you'd encourage each country in a federation to promote bids that make the most economic sense and even to come up with two or three country joint bids, which I think would be good for everyone. Thank you to several posts that were in line with what I've been saying: I am neither a "sore loser" or "bigot" -I accept that '18 and '22 have been decided, I would not hope for any Cup host to fail, and in principle I think new host locations is a worthy goal. That said, any arms-length observer can see that FIFA's process is messed up, the culture of the exec committee is one of contempt for many of its constituents, and while I do not know if either of these winners engaged in foul play - I will say the current process invites it.

  20. Brian Herbert, December 10, 2010 at 5:20 p.m.

    Man, sorry about the double post, one more thing on rotation by federation: Imagine the USA and Mexico get a cup as a joint bid in Concacaf. As a federation, we have all agreed that the U.S. group will build a new stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and hold a Cup match there, of course the Haitians get the stadium afterward. Right now, a country like Qatar is about the only one who can afford to give away stadiums, but with a little financial creativity between federation members, we could see stuff like this become common. Would that kind of thing improve our "image problem", Mr. Blatter!?

  21. Carl Walther, December 11, 2010 at 12:20 p.m.

    Blazer is either the most naive person involved in sports, or just another two faced politician. Just when did FIFA change it's focus from facilitating soccer to changing the face of countries though out the world? Oh yes, now I know. 'Sather Blather' actually thinks he can get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by what he's doing. (There are articles reporting him talking about this.)

  22. Tom G, December 11, 2010 at 3:24 p.m.

    I starter as a Cosmos fan and became passionate USA Men's team fan. Now i am completely turned off and unless fifa cleans up its act i will never go to another WC and i have been to three of them. Forget the US Men's national team too unless they start to lead a movement to reform FIFA. What a disgraceful performance mr blazer. Do you think we are so stupid to buy this line of non-sense - it's for the greater good - what a joke - good for u and the four star hotels and top line restruants you frequent on fans money and good cover for corruption...? England is America's loyal friend and you vote for a corrupt state lead by a few and controlled by its secret police? what a joke, I am voting with my feet - good riddance FIFA.

  23. Tom G, December 11, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

    Mr Blzer disgraceful.

    Concacaf fat cats - you know where their offices are? Trump Tower NYC. thye must think we are so stupid. if they sought to improve the world why are they living so high and spending money like it was water.

  24. Carlos Thys, December 11, 2010 at 7:17 p.m.

    Has anyone apologized to the civic leaders, volunteers, citizens and mayors, city councils of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville, Sad Diego, Seattle, Denver, etc? Where's the open apology USSF? You wasted their time and efforts. You duped them all. You did. I was way too soft on my comments on Mr. Gulati last week. Dump him. Blazer too. Fat cats who know nothing of the sport. My requirement to support any USSF effort in the future: ALL USSF executives and deputies work for NO pay. Zero. Nothing. They either do it as volunteer work or remain permanently in the crosshairs for removal. (Obviously these two extremely incapable men -- can we call them men? -- never have played the game. Qatari heat is DEADLY in the best of circumstances. Worse, they have no knowledge of the life and permanent duress in a totalitarian state, i.e. places like Russian Federation (new name for old USSR) and Qatar. But, no worries, eh? Can't be bothered with 'details' when your next 5-star hotel, chartered jet, and sumptous conference week await, eh?) All this nonsense once more underscores the only conclusion a decent, right-thinking adult can have: Play, coach, ref, encourage, cheer, and support your local amateur-only, recreational league. Once there's money involved, it is for fools.

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