Soccer

Obama: Qatar 'wrong decision'

2010-12-02 21:37

Washington - US President Barack Obama said FIFA made the "wrong decision" on Thursday when selecting Qatar over an American bid to host the 2022 World Cup in what will be a major setback for football in America.

"I think it was the wrong decision," Obama said at the White House, joining thousands of disappointed Americans who watched the announcement from Zurich, where a video message from him had been part of the US presentation.

"Obviously we're very disappointed. To come up short is very difficult to take," said US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who called the defeat "a setback in moving the sport forward" in a long-skeptical US market.

"(Hosting in 2022) was the equivalent of putting your foot on the accelerator. From that point it's an opportunity lost. Will we get there? I'm confident we will. It's going to take longer. It's going to take more work."

It was the second major sport bid loss for Americans in as many years. Obama attended last year's International Olympic Committee vote on the 2016 Summer Games site when his hometown, Chicago, was ousted on the first ballot.

Only minutes after Qatar was announced as FIFA's choice for 2022, frustrated US supporters vented their feelings on US Soccer's Twitter site.

"Gutted", "USA Soccer is set back another 20 years" and "Qatar? Wow. Soccer actually just got less relevant in the US" were among the shocked reactions.

In the wake of a recent FIFA bribery allegations, fans were less than thrilled about losing the chance to host for the second time.

"Qatar? Time to stop playing along. They can come to us when they want us to care about soccer again. They can bribe us next time," tweeted one angry fan.

In 1994, the US World Cup set a record by selling 3,587,538 tickets for 52 matches and sparked the launch of Major League Soccer, which has survived for 15 years and lured England star David Beckham to play in Los Angeles.

The MLS website featured several posts along the lines of "FIFA=corruption" and "If anyone needed confirmation that the whole process is rigged, there ya go".

US television commentators played up the heat projections and relatively small land area for Qatar and quickly relegated coverage of the World Cup selection behind basketball and American football.

Alexi Lalas, a former US star who handled commentary on ESPN's US telecast of the FIFA announcement, brought up the idea that Qatar might need a backup host site only moments after the choice was revealed.

"If Qatar can't do it, it's coming right to the United States," he said. "The United States is waiting in the wings."

The United States acted as a fill-in host for the 2003 Women's World Cup after planned host China was struck by a SARS epidemic.

Lalas guarded against US fans becoming too downcast.

"The sky is not falling," he said. "You dust yourself up. Onward and upward. It has never been an easy road for US Soccer. This just continues that."

Tweeters were not as optimistic about the future of football in America.

"Enough with how much USA Soccer matters. When you lose the World Cup bid to friggin' Qatar, trust me, it means nothing," posted one US fan.

"That is why soccer will never grow into a huge sport in the USA. Not even FIFA cares about usa soccer," wrote another.

Gulati wanted more time to ponder whether or not US Soccer would consider a bid for 2026 and was circumspect about the politics of FIFA's decision.

"There were reports of some alliances. The numbers would seem to bear that out," Gulati said.

"It's politics. It's friendships and relationships. It's tactics. There are far too many permutations. I'm not smart enough to figure out how all those things played out. I don't know the rationale of all the voters."

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