2022 or bust for the U.S.
The worst-kept secret in FIFA finally came to light Friday with the announcement that the U.S. has withdrawn from consideration for hosting the 2018 World Cup, and will now focus exclusively on bidding for the 2022 edition of the tournament.
There has long been a sentiment within FIFA and elsewhere that the 2018 World Cup should be held in Europe. Thanks to the U.S. withdrawal, the field is now exclusively the domain of European contenders. Russia and England are the favorites, along with joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Spain and Portugal.
With FIFA insisting that the same continent can't host consecutive tournaments, the 2022 edition of the World Cup will come down to five bidders -- the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar.
"For some time we have been in conversations with FIFA and UEFA about the possibility of focusing only on the 2022 bidding process, an option we have made reference to many times," said Sunil Gulati, Chairman of the USA Bid Committee and President of U.S. Soccer, via a press release. "We are confident this is in the best interests of the USA Bid."
Whether the U.S. benefits purely through goodwill or assurances of votes from various FIFA Executive Committee members to secure the 2022 World Cup is not known. But withdrawal does have its benefits. For one thing, it will allow for a simplified voting procedure, the particulars of which will be hashed out at a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee slated to begin Oct. 28 in Zurich. Had the U.S. remained in contention for both tournaments, the procedure would have no doubt been complicated.
The second benefit is that the withdrawal will allow the U.S. bid to proceed without the hypothetical questions inherent in bidding for both tournaments, making it easier for alliances to be formed.
"We wanted to make the announcement now -- still 48 days before the final decision -- in order to make our intentions clear during the last part of our campaign," Gulati said.
Clearly, there are no guarantees that the U.S. gambit will succeed, despite the obvious strength of its bid. But Gulati & Co. will no doubt be hoping that their pullout will allow them to forge the kind of alliances that will bring the tournament stateside for the second time.