Commentary

L.A. keen on World Cup choice

Updated: December 2, 2010, 12:10 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

David Simon can't remember exactly where he was the last time the United States learned FIFA had awarded it the World Cup.

"Honestly, I can't remember how we officially heard," said Simon, the president of the Los Angeles Sports Council and a member of the U.S. bid for the 1994 tournament.

"I think they might have wired something to us."

That was 1988.

Fast-forward to this week, when FIFA's vote on the sites that will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is being covered as a global event.

England, Russia, and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/The Netherlands are the finalists for 2018. The U.S., Japan, South Korea, Qatar and Australia are bidding for 2022.

Most analysts believe the U.S. and Qatar are the favorites for 2022, but it's impossible to predict the politics that will influence the 22 men, from 22 countries, making the decision.

ESPN is covering the announcement live on "SportsCenter" starting at 7 a.m. PT Thursday. Official viewing parties are being held in each of the 18 American cites currently part of the U.S. bid.

The official watch party for Los Angeles is being held at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live with complimentary breakfast for all fans and special guests such as the Galaxy's Edson Buddle and Omar Gonzalez. Landon Donovan would be there, but he's in Zurich along with former President Bill Clinton and actor Morgan Freeman to help promote the U.S. bid.

Chivas USA is hosting a viewing party at Hennessey's Tavern in Manhattan Beach starting at 6:30 a.m.

"The world was very different back in 1988," said Simon, who is helping coordinate Los Angeles' involvement in the U.S. bid for the 2022 Cup.

"The last time it came to us, FIFA certainly didn't have a big announcement on international television."

That speaks to both the growth of soccer around the world and its popularity in the U.S.

Simon said he can remember a meeting at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where FIFA had invited the delegations from the U.S. to observe that year's tournament; several of his colleagues had never been to a soccer match in person.

"That was 20 years ago," he said. "That would not be true today."

The opportunity for growth was a large part of the reason FIFA picked the U.S. to host in 1994. The U.S. was seen as an emerging soccer market that could easily stage a successful World Cup and benefit from the exposure it would create.

The other factor, Simon said, was the success of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Simon was one of Peter Ueberroth's first five employees on the 1984 Olympic organizing committee.

"One of the reasons FIFA chose the United States for the 1994 World Cup was the success we'd had staging the 1984 Olympics at the Rose Bowl," he said.

"Alan Rothenberg, who later organized the World Cup, ran the Olympic soccer events back in 1984, and the attendance at the Rose Bowl really got their attention."

Why did so many people attend Olympic soccer back in 1984?

"I think it was because people were so into the Olympics, but it wasn't easy to get tickets for everything," Simon said. "Well, the Rose Bowl had seats because it holds 90,000 fans. So we were close to selling out games that in any other country wouldn't have been as enticing."

FIFA remembered the success of 1984 Olympic soccer at the Rose Bowl when the next World Cup was due to be awarded in 1988.

The Rose Bowl did not disappoint. It held a flawless final to the 1994 World Cup and a memorable final in the 1999 Women's World Cup.

The U.S. still holds the all-time attendance record for a World Cup.

FIFA has had such a good experience in America, and especially with the Rose Bowl, that it told organizers of Chicago's Summer Olympics bid for 2016 that the Rose Bowl must be one of the venues for the soccer competition.

"FIFA basically told them to involve the Rose Bowl in their bid," Simon said. "We would've been the only venue west of the Mississippi."

The Rose Bowl likely will again be one of the venues if the U.S. wins the right to host the 2022 World Cup. But it's hard to look so far into the future.

Los Angeles could have a new downtown NFL stadium by then. The Coliseum could be involved.

The only thing you can safely assume is that Los Angeles will be one of the 12 sites where games will be held.

Of course, that's assuming the U.S. is awarded the bid.

"I hope the U.S. gets it and I think the U.S. committee has run a very good campaign," Simon said. "But there are political aspects to this. The best bid doesn't always win.

"I won't be shocked if we don't get it. I'd be disappointed, and I'm very hopeful, but I won't be shocked."

At least this time he won't have to wait for the wire to come in.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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