Saturday, January 16, 2010

Will Chicago-less bid cost World Cup?

I still remember the summer of ’94 in part because of watching the World Cup soccer tournament that was played in the United States.

While that year’s championship game was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., it was we here in Chicago that got to see the opening ceremonies of the month-long international tourney, along with the first couple of matches.

LITERALLY FOR A couple of days, the eyes of the world were on Chicago and Soldier Field in a way that the Bears (who may be the only people happy to learn that someone won’t tread a decade from now on the “precious” turf they use eight Sundays a year) could never attract.

But if it turns out that the United States does manage to get to host the World Cup again when it is held in 2018 or 2022 (this year will be in South Africa, while 2014 will be in Brazil), we in Chicago are going to be irrelevant.

The U.S. officials who are putting together the bid that FIFA officials will consider later this year in determining where to hold the World Cup released a list of 18 cities that could wind up hosting games.

The closest that list came to Chicago was the thought of playing matches in Indiana-noplace (the city that earlier this week thought it cute to have government officials bet against Baltimore officials and require that an Indianapolis Colts banner be flown in the Maryland city. What next, the L.A. Dodger banner in Brooklyn?)

READING AROUND THE Internet, there have been people all week who have been wondering who was behind the “snub” to Chicago. What reason was being used for not having any of the matches (it’s not like we’re demanding the championship game proper) in the Second City?

Now, we’re reading in the New York Times (or at least those editions that include stories off the Chicago News Cooperative news service) that it was the city itself (specifically, the Chicago Park District) that insisted that Chicago not be included as part of a U.S. bid to stage the World Cup.

If one wants to believe the city’s rhetoric, the tough economic times our nation has faced during the past year makes this a bad time to engage in the politicking necessary to stage an international sports event.

For those who like to believe whatever conspiracy theories are available, particularly if they make Mayor Richard M. Daley look bad, this is about Hizzoner Jr. being a big baby over the fact that Chicago was rejected to be the host city for the summer Olympic games in 2016.

IF THE INTERNATIONAL Olympic Committee can’t see how wonderful Chicago is, then we’re going to snub everybody (including FIFA, the governing body for soccer around the world).

Regardless, it is unlikely that the process could be altered now to suddenly include Chicago, which means the U.S. is going to have to try to appeal to the world without one of its few cities that includes so many international elements.

Some of the pundits whose “world” revolves around international soccer are saying the United States is a favorite to be awarded the World Cup tourney for one of those years (2022 seems to be the concensus). But how serious are world-wide officials going to take a list of countries that includes places like Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla., and where some U.S. officials are seriously pushing the idea of San Diego as the perfect place to stage the championship game (in Qualcomm Stadium, quite possibly the worst corporate name in use on an athletic building).

Maybe I’m just overestimating the international significance of Chicago. But with an event such as the World Cup (where officials pick a host country and spread the games among many cities, as opposed to the Olympics where officials pick a host city), one needs a good mix.

WHILE THE GAMES themselves will be attended by people who travel to the cities from around the world, one is going to need to have a local interest as well. That is what the city’s strong ethnic composition in so many different ethnic groups has to offer.

So has the city crippled the U.S. bid?

I think it’s possible, although it could wind up that FIFA officials will be so eager to have the event in the United States (which will translate into higher U.S. television ratings for the games, which means bigger broadcast bucks) that they may overlook the lack of Chicago.

Which means that in the end, I think Chicago officials may have done the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot by thinking that the city can’t accommodate the event because of economic concerns.

EXCUSE ME FOR believing that by 2018 (or 2022), the current economic struggles are going to be ancient history. Heck, by then Barack Obama will be history – even if he wins two full terms. I don’t buy using that as a reason.

There is one sense that the city’s current behavior is historically reminiscent. Take the political nominating conventions, where Chicago used to be a regular player for hosting the Democratic event and also used to host the Republicans (we are in the Land of Lincoln, after all) now and then.

But after 1972 when Democratic officials offended then-Mayor Richard J. Daley by deposing part of the Chicago delegation, he made pronouncements that the city would “never again” seek to host the events that make a city the center of the U.S. political universe. That view lasted for more than two full decades, until Daley-the-younger went ahead and sought the Democratic National Convention for 1996.

Could this be Daley-the-younger’s “never again” statement that some future political official will have to do an about-face on in order to bring such an event – and the potential for economic perks that goes along with it – to Chicago?


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