U.S. stresses diversity in bid

Updated: December 1, 2010, 7:03 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ZURICH -- Former President Bill Clinton stressed the diversity of the United States in its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, telling the FIFA executive committee on Wednesday that "we can fill a stadium with home-nation rooters."

Clinton, the honorary chairman of the bid committee, spoke at the end of the country's 30-minute presentation to the 22 FIFA voters. Clinton read off his script and spent much time talking about his foundation and past achievements.

The United States is competing with Australia, South Korea, Qatar and Japan for the right to host the 2022 World Cup. FIFA will vote on the 2018 and '22 tournaments on Thursday.

Russia, England, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands are bidding for the right to host the 2018 event.

The U.S. presentation at FIFA headquarters opened with actor Morgan Freeman calling the United States the world's most diverse country. Clinton later built on that theme.

"It's important that all the teams who come to any World Cup venue feel that they, too, are playing at home, not just for people watching on television," Clinton said. "I tell everyone maybe America's best claim to this World Cup is that we have the only nation you can put the World Cup that can guarantee no matter who makes the final, we can fill a stadium with home-nation rooters."

Freeman invoked the name of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who helped bring the 2010 World Cup to that nation. Freeman played Mandela in the movie "Invictus," about how the former political prisoner used rugby to unite a country that had been separated by apartheid.

"We are now the most diverse nation on earth," Freeman said. "And our patchwork heritage is our greatest strength."

Freeman also was off his captivating best, making a mistake as he was reading his opening statement.

"I'm sorry, I missed a page," Freeman said after realizing his speech was going in a different direction.

Freeman later introduced a video of President Barack Obama, whose message was similar.

"Ours has always been a nation of great diversity and great promise," Obama said. "Anything is possible."

I tell everyone maybe America's best claim to this World Cup is that we have the only nation you can put the World Cup that can guarantee no matter who makes the final, we can fill a stadium with home-nation rooters.

-- Bill Clinton

Obama was on hand last year in Copenhagen to help Chicago in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Despite his presence, Chicago was eliminated in the first round.

The World Cup bid team noted that no infrastructure needs to be built to host the tournament in the U.S. The Americans also highlighted the growth of soccer in the country since it hosted the 1994 World Cup.

The biggest thing that could sway voters toward the American bid is the potential money-making prospect of having the World Cup in the United States. U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati went to lengths to show the voters how much could be made.

U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan was introduced with a video of him scoring against Algeria at this year's World Cup. He said his dream to play soccer at the highest level began after watching Argentina play Romania in the second round of the World Cup at the Rose Bowl.

While the American bid stressed diversity, South Korea went for unity.

It highlighted the prospect of peace and a united Korea, insisting that soccer had the power to bring people closer and would be an agent of political change to end the standoff between North and South on the divided peninsula.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik went to the World Cup in South Africa this year, where both South and North Korea played, to highlight the prospect of unity.

"We saw that football has the power to bring people together, to end enmity and to spur reconciliation," Kim said. "It gave us a vision that the World Cup in 2022 can be a celebration of peace for Korea and the world."

Qatar is considered by some an outsider to host the first World Cup in the Middle East, and downplayed criticism that it would be simply too hot in the desert nation.

"It would be a bold gamble and an exciting prospect, but with no risk," bid chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi said through a translator. "Heat is not and will not be an issue."

Japan, aiming to dazzle FIFA with modern magic, said that if it hosts the World Cup in 2022 it will beam games to stadiums around the planet using revolutionary 3-D technology.

The broadcasts will make it seem as though players are rising out of the ground, almost holographically. The soccer action in Japan would be filmed using hundreds of cameras and be broadcast to screens that will be laid flat on the fields of iconic locations like Wembley Stadium in London or the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

The 3-D images will protrude from the ground, making it seem to fans that they are witnessing the real game. The players would appear to be life-size and the action would be in real time.

Australia lined up the elegance of supermodel Elle Macpherson to offset its funky presentation.

As for the 2018 World Cup bids, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling out of helping Russia, Wednesday's frantic last day of politicking was left to other leaders, princes, actors and models to work their charm on the 22 voters.

Putin's withdrawal and allegation that the bidding process had turned into an "unfair competition" following scandals targeting FIFA dented Russia's stature as a favorite to host the event.

England continued to lead the sporting diplomacy, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham seeking to sway FIFA's executive committee for their 2018 bid.

The Spain-Portugal bid again kept its lobbying behind closed doors, but heard Wednesday it will not be able to count on the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in its buildup to the 2018 World Cup vote. Real Madrid said the Portuguese winger needs to recover for Saturday's match against Valencia.

The Belgium-Netherlands bid, considered the outsider for 2018, was hoping to be boosted by the arrival of Johan Cruyff.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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