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President Obama's answer shows wrong-headed U.S. attitude

I'd like to add a few things to my take on the voting for the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups, which appeared in Friday's print and online editions of the Chicago Tribune.

(For that story, click here)

1.  What was President Obama thinking when he said, "I think it was the wrong decision'' when asked by reporters Thursday for a comment on Qatar having won the right to host the 2022 World Cup over the United States?

I understand this was a chance encounter between the president and the White House press corps, so he couldn't have prepared an answer.  But his reaction smacked of the attitude -- a combination of entitlement, superiority and sour grapes -- that has made the United States terra non grata in the international sports world.

Couldn't the president simply have congratulated Qatar on its historic triumph while expressing disappointment that the U.S. bid had failed?  What he actually said, effectively belittling Qatar with a wrong-headed answer, can do future U.S. bids for the World Cup no good, as the people who vote for these things have long memories.

President Obama also did Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid no good with his 11th hour fly-by and soporific speech in the final presentation to International Olympic Committee voters 14 months ago in Copenhagen.

Yes, the gripes of some IOC members about being held on buses because of security involved for the president's late arrival were childish.  But the planning for his brief visit made Obama the only head of state whose presence caused significant inconvenience. After he committed to the trip, he should have done what his peers have in recent IOC host elections: stay long enough to do personal lobbying for votes.

You can say all you want about how ridiculous it is for presidents and prime ministers to fawn over the self-appointed grandees who vote for Olympic and World Cup hosts -- and every word would be justified.  But if you are in this game, you have to live with its absurd rules and understand the silly presumptions of the culture that surrounds it.

2.  The IOC all but said it is too hot for an Olympics in the Qatari summer when it announced in 2008 that the Summer Games must take place in a period from July 15 - Aug. 31, the dates favored by global broadcasters.  In its bid for the 2016 Olympics, Doha, Qatar had proposed dates of Oct. 14-30 because of the extreme heat in the desert summer.

That gave the IOC a reason not to include Doha among the four finalists for 2016, even though its bid got a higher technical score in the IOC's preliminary evaluation of the bidders (tied for third with Chicago) than eventual winner Rio, which was fifth.

So how can the World Cup go to Qatar in June and July?

The Qataris have promised a cooling system in all the stadiums, training areas and fan sites to keep the temperature at 78 degrees.  As my colleague Alan Abrahamson noted after getting an on-site preview, the system works.

And why wouldn't that work for an Olympics?

So many Olympic events, especially endurance events like the marathon and cycling road races, take place outside stadiums, and cooling those vast areas might require putting a dome over a large chunk of the small country (don't count out such an idea; Qatar has the money and the will to do it.)

Maybe some of those events could be run at night, when the intense desert sun would not be a factor.  I don't think the Qataris, with their enormous natural gas reserves, would have trouble fueling a lighting system.

Yes, there have been other very hot Olympics.  The first day in Atlanta (1996) was unbearable.  It was well over 100 degrees on the floor of the Barcelona (1992) Olympic Stadium during several days of the track competition.  Athens (2004) temperatures frequently hit the mid-90s in the afternoon, but the dry nights were beautiful.  And Beijing (2008) mixed heat, oppressive humidity and pollution.

There is another issue that should be a more significant impediment to an Olympics in Qatar.

Beginning in 1984, the country has sent an aggregate 98 athletes in 10 sports to the past seven Summer Olympics.

Not one was female.

And changing a culture may be harder than coping with a climate.

3.  Qatar's soccer team finds itself in a similar position to that of the United States when it was awarded the 1994 World Cup in 1988.

At that point, the U.S. men had not qualified for a World Cup since 1950.  And the team would need a dramatic victory in the final qualifying match against tiny Trinidad & Tobago to make the 1990 World Cup.

Qatar has tried unsuccessfully to qualify for every World Cup since 1978.  The Qataris made it to the final round of Asian qualifying for 2010, finishing a distant fourth in a five-team group, after being eliminated in the first round of qualifying for 2006. 

4.  Who knows how much final presentations count in these host city votes?

But I do know Qatar's was brilliant in showing off the modernity and global connection of a country many still see as an isolated, sandy empire.

(To watch it, click here).

Its Emir and bid committee president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad al-Thani, spoke beautiful English and French. (He also has a Facebook page). It brought out Bora Milutinovic, the citizen of the world who has coached five countries' teams (including the U.S.) in the World Cup, to tell the audience in Spanish why the compact Qatar plan would increase the level of play by decreasing the amount of travel. Its bid CEO also spoke English and Spanish.

(By comparison, the U.S. bid team spoke only English.)

It brought out an Iraqi to tell what the World Cup would mean to the entire Middle East, a region which has never hosted a World Cup or an Olympics.

And its final speaker was a woman, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chair of her country’s foundation for education, science and development, who pulled no punches in opening her presentation by asking simply, "When?" as the word appeared in capital letters on a large video screen behind her.  

A few minutes later, hectoring FIFA voters the way Brazilian President Lula had done to IOC voters last October about bringing the first Olympics to South America, she repeated the question, then answered it by saying, "The time has come. The time is now."

The voters agreed.

-- Philip Hersh

 

 
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Comments (14)

If we are, as you say, "terra non grata" in the sports world, than we need to withdraw from the IOC and FIFA. Then we need to adopt sanctions punishing any organization that does business with the uber-corrupt IOC and FIFA in the same manner as the sanctions punishing any fimr with ties to Iran. Let the IOC and FIFA run their corrupt little games without US money. If these organizations are going to stick it to the US just to stick it to the US, they can abandon any presence or income from US shores. We should also start new organizations to replace the IOC and FIFA and all other sports governing bodies, and these bodies should be closed to all dictatorial and autoritarian countries. Let me be perfectly clear about where you stand : If you are someone that supported the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing, you are a corrupt, genocidal enabler of murder and oppression, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. The same goes for anyone that supported the bids of Russia and Qatar. You are no better than these criminal regimes and governing bodies themselves.

It's pretty obvious that you know absolutely nothing about the world's game or its governing body. FIFA is corrupt, and in choosing Qatar they made a statement to the nations who actually were qualified to host the World Cup that their murky organization cares very little about its own bidding process. FIFA inspectors labeled Qatar as being a "high risk". To bring so many dignitaries to Switzerland under the pretense of fair consideration isn't just cruel, it's shameful. Votes were bought, and the world's greatest sporting event will go to a country that has no history in football, let alone any stadiums to create such a history.

President Obama should voice his opinions much louder. He's right to do so.

I'm sooo happy for Qatar! I'm an American expat living there now. It's a beautiful, optimistic, open-minded, and mutli-cultural little country, that will likely surprise the world, as it did on 12/2/10.

Agree on pretty much all points with the above. President Obama could have been more diplomatic. Such comments do not do well for the American image abroad.

I tip my hat to you sir. This is the first subjective unbiased piece I read yet on the Qatari bid. As a Qatari I was particularly offended by mr Obama's comments of all people. His comments will only serve as motivation for us to organize the most successful world cup event ever. Just like we did when we hosted the 2006 Asian games. We are a peace loving and hospitable nation, but you don't have to take my word for it, come and see for your selves!

The selection of Qatar was a slap in the face to Israel and every democratic country in the world. Yes Qatar has nice buildings and a lot of money, but it is a slave state and its culture is still back in the dark ages. The over/under on the number of suicide bombings during this world cup is at 5 now and will rise. Also glad to know we can just take someones word that the heat won't be an issue, when it will be over 110 degrees and peoples lives will be at risk. Way to put the players and fans lives at risk just to let Qatar feel good about itself. Qatar is not a place for fun and events such as the world cup, it is a huge business center that is meant to only used as a place for conferences. Hence the reason why the country is so BORING. No westerners will go to this World Cup and I wouldn't be shocked if no westerns teams go either. World Cup 2018 is in a Mafia State while World Cup 2022 is in a modern dat slave state. Makes me so glad I live in an actually civilized country like Australia. The author sounds like Qatar is his Utopia and that it is the greatest place on earth. Enjoy living in the 15th century buddy.

I'm sorry was this article written by Usama Bin Laden?

You are completely right. The reason Qatar got the 2022 world cup was because..........

-Unity in the middle east
-Very impressive bid
-Possibility of a larger market for FIFA
-Cool Stadiums

They did everything perfectly and made no mistakes.
Bribery is just a stupid way for some people to explain why they didn't loose.
Admit it people, Qatar's bid was superior to that of the USA.

Excellent Article. Just one mistake as far as I can see - The Emir is not Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad al-Thani.

Hey...forget about the 120-degree heat every day in the Qatar summer.

Muslim EXTREMISTS plan to have TOTAL CONTROL of the whole REGION by then & insist Qatar, will no longer even EXIST because it will be part of the Islamic Caliphate that will control ALL of the Arab nations by then.

Seriously...they are boasting about it all over the internet...just Google "2022 World Cup" plus "Islamic extremists" and see what you get.

Amazing article.

But I need to add, Qatar view of women sports has changed a lot, currently Qatar has a women team for almost every Olympic sport, and recently the Qatari women volleyball team got the fourth position on a local tournament.

Apparently the writer is in favor of 3rd world corrupt style voting. Perhaps President Obama realizes the U.S. does not help the international community by implicitly endorsing such a system. You would never know it from this post since it never mentions the repeated scandals involved with the IOC and FIFA, including the latest in FIFA voting where two members were suspended last month. Moreover, FIFA has the gall to still claim how honest and transparent the vote is. I don't see why the US or any other democratic country should support such an inherently flawed system. Unfortunately, there are supporters of the OIC and FIFA who will exploit our love for the athletes and games and will look away. The U.S. should still attend the World Cup and Olympics, but boycott bidding for any games and pressure US and international sponsors to stop supporting the games. Obviously, FIFA and IOC only listens when money is involved.

I DON'T AGREE WITH YOU AND THIS ARTICLE. WHY CAN'T THE PRESIDENT JUST SAY WHAT HE FEELS. IT IS OK TO BE TRUTHFUL INSTEAD OF FAKE, PHONEY OR POLITICALLY CORRECT ALL THE TIME.

THAT IS AN AWFUL BIG LEAP JUST BECAUSE HE FELT IT WAS A MISTAKE, TO EQUATE THAT WITH FEELING LIKE THE U.S. IS ENTITLED.

ON THE OTHER HAND, WE ARE THE BEST IN ALMOST EVERYTHING WE DO. THIS IS THE U.S. TIME TO SHINE. MAYBE ONE DAY THIS EMPIRE AS OTHERS WILL FALL. BUT TODAY, WE ARE SUPERIOR!

Maybe his people did not advise him how to answer that question properly or he misunderstood the question.

Expecting O'Bama to be a statesman?


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