U.S. loses out to Qatar in bid to host 2022 World Cup

News met with disappointment in Baltimore; Russia lands 2018 soccer event

  • From left to right, Bill Irvin, Bret Holmes, Terry Hasseltine — director of Maryland's Office of Sports Marketing, Kevin Healey — president and general manager of the Baltimore Blast, Ashley Cottrell, Matthew Libber and Marie Langford gathered at Slainte's Irish Pub for Thursday's announcements of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup soccer events. The U.S. lost out on its bid to host the 2022 event to Qatar.
From left to right, Bill Irvin, Bret Holmes, Terry Hasseltine… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
December 02, 2010|By Don Markus and Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

In summing up the selection process to host a World Cup, the president of soccer's governing body put it in simple terms.

"Football is not only about winning, football is also a school of life where you learn to lose," FIFA President Sepp Blatter told a worldwide television audience and those gathered in Zurich, Switzerland, for Thursday's announcement of the 2018 and 2022 sites.

The U.S. bid committee learned that lesson minutes later, losing out as host of the 2022 event to tiny Qatar. The oil-rich, Middle Eastern country, about the size of Connecticut with the population of San Francisco, is the smallest country ever to submit a bid.

According to reports, Qatar has promised to provide air conditioning in its stadiums, because games would be played during a time of year when the average temperature is about 115 degrees. Located in the Persian Gulf, Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, and among the most polluted.

In explaining how Qatar beat out the United States and Australia — as well as South Korea and Japan, the co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup — Blatter told Reuters, "We go to new lands."

The shocking choice — which followed the similar, though less-surprising announcement that Russia, also a first-time host, had beaten out England for the 2018 World Cup — was felt throughout the United States, which was looking to host the event for a second time after the 1994 World Cup attracted a record number of fans.

"Obviously, it's disappointing," said Landon Donovan, one of the stars of the last three U.S. World Cup teams who along with former President Bill Clinton and actor Morgan Freeman helped make the U.S. presentation. "Nobody likes to lose. It's a sad day for us and the seven other countries, and it's a happy day for Qatar and Russia."

The sentiment was the same in Baltimore, which had made the first cut of American cities hoping to host some games of the quadrennial event.

At Slainte's Irish Pub, a Fells Point bar whose marketing slogan is "Where Soccer Is Religion," the news was met with disappointment by those who gathered to watch the announcement, carried live on ESPN.

Moments before the announcement, Bill Irvin, Slainte's director of operations, stood to the side of a room on the bar's second floor, gripping two bottles of champagne and poised to celebrate. The mood was buoyant and hopeful.

Instead, a groan erupted upon Qatar's win, and the champagne went uncorked.

Draped in official USA bid scarves, some of the best-known names in the world of Baltimore sports — including Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Baltimore Blast, the city's professional indoor soccer team — were visibly deflated, but tried to lift the mood.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Healey said. "I'm proud of our city. We got a lot of things that we need to accomplish on the soccer side, and we'll focus on that. The World Cup will come back to the United States. Unfortunately, it's just going to take a little longer."

Healey and others expect the city to host another international soccer "friendly," an exhibition match similar to the ones held at M&T Bank Stadium the past two summers. A match between Chelsea and AC Milan sold out the stadium in 2009, and one between Manchester City and Inter Milan, teams with lesser-known stars, attracted 37,000 last July.

Local soccer fan Brendan Muth, who attended Thursday's announcement at Slainte's, said he would "love to see" a Major League Soccer team playing in Baltimore.

And Healey said he looked forward to another international sports event coming to Baltimore next Labor Day weekend.

"We got a car race," he said, referring to the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Somehow, it didn't seem the same.

don.markus@baltsun.com

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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