In a surprise decision, the city of Chicago, the hometown of U.S. President Barack Obama and home of the U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters, will not be included as one of the potential venue cities in the official USA bid to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.
That fact was revealed by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati in a press conference held today in New York City.
When asked if leaving the city of Chicago off of the list of selected venues will affect President Barack Obama's support of the USA bid, Gulati indicated that the USA Bid Committee has received and expects to continue to receive the full and passionate support of President Obama.
“But we haven’t talked to him recently about these cities. I think he’s got a few other things on his mind,” Gulati said jokingly. Before being elected President, Obama served as a U.S. Senator representing Illinois and was a longtime resident of Chicago.
As for the reasons for leaving Chicago out, Gulati said that "Chicago has a rich soccer history, but it was clear to us Olympic fatigue became a factor," referring to the city's failed attempt to land the 2016 Olympic Games. Chicago's Soldier Field stadium hosted several matches and the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup.
Gulati went on to reveal that there are many soccer fans in the Obama administration, including press secretary Robert Gibbs, who was a goalkeeper in college at NC State.
As to the significance of counting on the support of the U.S. President, Gulati said “We don't have Nelson Mandela, we don't have (German soccer legend) Franz Beckenbauer, nor Pele. We have Barack Obama.”
A press release from U.S. Soccer stated that President Obama reached out to FIFA, the world's governing body of soccer, in April of last year, to endorse the goal of bringing the world’s largest sporting event back to the United States.
In a letter to FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter and U.S. Soccer President Gulati, President Obama noted the role soccer played in his life as a youth, and its ability to unite people, communities and nations from every continent, according to the release.
U.S. Soccer also indicated that in July, Obama and Blatter met at the White House to discuss the U.S. bid and other soccer-related topics. The meeting was marked by Blatter confirming his invitation for President Obama to be his guest at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. President Obama has expressed his interest in attending the event pending availability on his schedule.
Besides Chicago, other cities that hosted games in the 1994 World Cup that were also left off the bid, include San Francisco, Detroit and Orlando.
On the flip side, thirteen cities that have never held FIFA World Cup matches were announced. They are: Atlanta (Georgia Dome), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium) Denver (Invesco Field), Houston (Reliant Stadium), Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Miami (Land Shark Stadium), Nashville (LP Field), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), Phoenix (University of Phoenix Stadium), San Diego (Qualcomm Stadium), Seattle (Qwest Field and Husky Stadium), and Tampa (Raymond James Stadium).
The USA Bid Committee also included five cities that hosted games in the 1994 World Cup: Boston (Gillette Stadium), Dallas (Cotton Bowl and Cowboys Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and LA Memorial Coliseum), New York/New Jersey (New Meadowlands Stadium), and Washington, D.C. (FedEx Field).
Gulati said that FIFA is probably leaning toward awarding the 2018 games to a European host to be selected from the England, Netherlands-Belgium, Portugal-Spain, and the Russia bids. In effect, that means the U.S. will be competing with Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Qatar, and South Korea for the 2022 bid. Mexico withdrew its bid in September of last year.
All candidates must have their bid applications to FIFA by May 14, 2010. FIFA will name the two hosts for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments on Dec. 2, 2010.