NEW YORK — For the USA Bid Committee, one of the biggest challenges it faces in landing either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cups is the international community's often negative perception of soccer in the United States.
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati made the admission Tuesday during a press conference in which an official FIFA delegation began its five-cities tour of the United States.
"I think some of the international community underestimates the passion for the game in the United States, and when we start talking about the landscape in the US, they're surprised by it," Gulati said.
"They're surprised that we've got 16 teams and growing in MLS. They're surprised that Americans were the number one ticket buyers in the [past] World Cup. They're surprised that you couldn't get into a bar in a lot of cities across the country at 10 o'clock in the morning to watch World Cup games. They're surprised that the TV rights payment for the World Cup was the single largest in the world."
The FIFA delegation arrived in New York City Monday as part of a four-day fact-finding tour in which it will visit New York/New Jersey, Washington, Miami, Dallas and Houston to gather information about infrastructure and stadiums before presenting a report to the executive committee. FIFA will make a decision about who will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Dec. 2, 2010.
The cities selected for this US tour were chosen partly due to the time constraints of the visit. The USA Bid Committee also wanted to ensure the delegation toured some of the nation's newer stadiums, such as those in New Jersey and Dallas, and those facilities large enough to host a World Cup final.
FIFA has visited eight potential World Cup hosts so far this year and will next head to Qatar for its ninth and final tour. Other hopeful nations include Australia, England, Japan, Qatar, Russia and South Korea. Spain and Portugal, as well as Holland and Belgium, have presented joint bids.
Members of the FIFA delegation were not permitted to answer questions from the media during the conference. However, Gulati remains confident that the United States has an excellent shot at impressing FIFA.
"I think we've done everything we can to date," Gulati said. "On the technical bid preparation, which is, in my view, extraordinary. And the second part, which is convincing 24 people that that technical bid, and everything else that the United States offers, is what they want."