Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Wrapping up the U.S. World Cup bid inspection

The FIFA World Cup bid inspection delegation left the United States yesterday afternoon, and U.S. bid chair Sunil Gulati looked back at the visit in a conference call with reporters this morning.

Wrapping up the U.S. World Cup bid inspection

The FIFA World Cup bid inspection delegation left the United States yesterday afternoon, and U.S. bid chair Sunil Gulati looked back at the visit in a conference call with reporters this morning. I've put together a photo gallery from the inspection trip, and over the weekend I'll have some videos as well.

The U.S. presentation brought everything it could. Even the most diehard Eagles fan would have to admit that the other three stadiums in the NFC East - Giants Stadium, FedEx Field and Cowboys Stadium - are impressive facilities. The delegation also visited stadiums in Houston and Miami.

"I think all decisions in our lives come down to your ability to impress people," Gulati said. "This was a technical inspection - they will be writing down pros and cons, they won't say the World Cup should go to country X or Y."

Certainly, the U.S. bid has some issues to look at. Gulati said that the main questions during the inspection visit were about transportation and other logistical issues - airports, hotels, and so forth.

In addition to moving fans between cities, moving fans within cities is always an issue - specifically via public transportation. As many of you have pointed out in the comments, places like Miami and Phoenix don't have the level of public transportation that Philadelphia, New York and Washington do.

"The typical experience around an NFL game, where most or many people are driving and tailgating, is not what a World Cup will look like," Gulati admitted. He said that the World Cup bid incorporates "either existing infrastructure or things that can be put in place on a short term basis, like at the Super Bowl [where] they run hundreds of buses. And any public sector plans between now and 2018 or 2022, [if] there are plans in those cities to add light rail or other public transport."

Another infrastructure matter that the bid inspectors looked at was training facilities. The inspectors visited Red Bull Arena and George Mason University's soccer facility as examples. In Philadelphia, we'd probably see PPL Park, the NovaCare Center, and facilities at area colleges used by teams.

Finally, there is an issue that will resound a lot with soccer fans - the width of the playing surfaces at NFL Stadiums. In 1994, some concessions were made to stadiums that could not get their surfaces to the FIFA standard width. That won't happen this time.

"All of our venues can get to 75 yards, 68 meters," Gulati said. "We've assured FIFA we can get to international dimensions, and that we can do it in a cost-effective way."

And if one or two of the 18 cities currently in the bid can't do that, they'll probably be dropped. The final World Cup package will probably have 12 to 15 cities in it.

As for the ever-popular Fan Fests, those can be spread around on a much wider scale. The bid inspection team saw three potential fan fest sites in current bid markets: the National Mall in Washington, a site near the convention center in downtown Houston, and a beach site near Miami.

"We can all think of places in our American cities, the great public spaces that exist," Gulati said. "And we will talk about cities not hosting games that can host fan fests."

Gulati said he can think of "multiple" places in Philadelphia that would work as fan fest sites. He didn't name any specific sites, but certainly we can discuss it here. Would you like to see the Ben Franklin Parkway near the Art Museum as a site? What about Penn's Landing?

In the end, a lot of this will come down to power-point presentations and backroom negotiations. The final vote will be as political as any American presidential election. There are 24 people on the committee that will cast the final votes on which nations will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

"Some [voters] will be very strong supporters regardless of what the report says," Gulati said. "CONCACAF [as a voting block], for example, which is supporting our bid, is unlikely to be swayed by anything negative in our report because they are supporting us."

Similarly, you can be sure that voters the Asian confederation will support an Asian nation, such as South Korea or Qatar. The swing votes will probably come from Africa and Europe, especially if a European nation hosts the 2018 World Cup. That is highly likely.

So what do you think? Will the U.S. bid be successful? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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