Bid Legacy In Question As FIFA Wraps Up US World Cup Inspection

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Inspection team chairman Harold Mayne-Nicholls with USA bid chairman Sunil Gulati as the inspection visit drew to a close (Rick Yeatts, ISI)
(WFI) FIFA inspection leader Harold Mayne-Nicholls urged U.S. bid leaders Thursday to reconsider the legacy aspect of their efforts to win the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

INSIDER was on the scene in Houston as the six-man delegation wrapped up its penultimate technical tour at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“In case you will be awarded to host the event, we would also need a strong focus on international legacy, not only on a domestic one,” Mayne-Nicholls said in one of two atypically pointed remarks.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati loosely addressed the legacy issue in a comment to assembled media shortly after the FIFA team’s departure.

“In the end, it’s not only about having the infrastructure and having top-level stadiums and so on,” he told reporters during a brief Q&A. “It’s about convincing 24 people that it’s in the best long-term interests of the sport to come to the United States.”

The Chilean FA president also cast doubt on existing public transport plans, perhaps more by omission than direct criticism.

Mayne-Nicholls listed the many infrastructural facets with which he and his colleagues were impressed – hotels, airports, security and training facilities among them.

Noticeably absent was any mention of mass transit, a fact he quickly remedied.

“Please let me add that there might be in a later stage additional needs for public transportation to cater to foreign fans,” he said without elaborating further.

The bulk of Mayne-Nicholls’ praise was directed toward the six stadiums he toured as well as the assurance he received from senior advisor and close Obama friend Valerie Jarrett during Wednesday’s breakfast at the White House that the U.S. government is more than ready to back another World Cup.

The inspection leader singled out recently built New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas as “truly outstanding bid venues” but said he harbors no doubts that all six are, with minor adjustments, ready to be World Cup venues.

FIFA’s final day in the U.S. began bright and early with a visit to Dallas Convention Center, a proposed Congress site.

The inspectors then toured state-of-the-art Cowboys Stadium, the world’s largest domed venue. The famed Cowgirls cheerleaders greeted Mayne-Nicholls and company before they enjoyed a private audience with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and a Texas-sized video message from George W. Bush.

The former president and his wife Laura will be tuned in, the record-sized HD screen informed the inspectors, when the fate of the U.S. bid is determined in less than three months’ time.

Another former President Bush, this time father George H.W., sent a similar message a few hours later in Houston’s Reliant Stadium, where Mayor Annise Parker and Texans’ owner Bob McNair led a tour of the eight-year-old facility.

Reliant drew sell-out crowds for an MLS All-Star Game in late July when Manchester United beat the league’s top players 5-2. The stadium also hosted CONCACAF Gold Cup matches in 2005 and 2007 and enjoyed its highest-ever attendance during a preparation match between the U.S. and Mexico.

The delegation then headed downtown to address the media at George R. Brown Convention Center, a potential home base for more than 5,000 international journalists should the U.S. be awarded a World Cup.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, U.S. National striker Brian Ching and basketball icon Yao Ming welcomed the suited six to the proposed International Broadcast Center ahead of closing statements by Mayne-Nicholls and Gulati.

The inspection leader’s address highlighted the progress Gulati and his predecessors have made since the country last hosted the World Cup.

“It would have been easy for U.S. Soccer, as we understand, to involve even more
Basketball star Yao Ming was one of the celebrities to meet the USA bid team (Rick Yeatts, ISI)
than a total of 18 candidate cities,” Mayne-Nicholls told him.

“This alone is a significant change from the late 80s, when you were bidding for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.”

He also said he shares Gulati’s confidence that a second U.S. World Cup would be a record-breaking affair, both in terms of attendance and in terms of ticketing and media rights revenue.

Up next for the FIFA globetrotters is a weekend off in Switzerland ahead of their final inspection. Check INSIDER throughout next week for complete coverage of the visit to Qatar.

December 2 is decision day for FIFA’s 24-man executive committee, which will convene in Zurich to dole out hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Nine bidders are in the running, but only two will have their efforts rewarded.

In the meantime, Gulati remains confident his bid will bear fruit, even if the competition pulls ahead.

“As we saw at this past summer’s event, we’re good at scoring late goals,” he joked in reference to Landon Donovan’s game-winner to lift the U.S. past Algeria and into knockout rounds at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“I just don’t like to be behind, so we’re making sure we don’t fall behind, but we score some late goals.”

Reported on the scene in Houston by Matthew Grayson.

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