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Can Obama match Beckenbauer, Mandela, Beckham and Pele?

February 2, 2009 |  6:45 pm

Barack Obama pitches Chicago's Olympic bid

The question, when it came on Monday afternoon, was innocent enough.

Was there a celebrity who could spearhead the U.S. World Cup bid for 2018 and 2022 the way Franz Beckenbauer had for Germany 2006, or the way Nelson Mandela had for South Africa 2010, or Pele for Brazil 2014, or the way that David Beckham had for England's 2012 Olympic bid?

Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, did not have to think too long about his answer. The man who would most cause the American bid to be viewed in a favorable light, he said, was the new occupant of the White House.

"Given everything that, frankly, President Obama has said, everything he stands for, everything he has talked about in terms of reaching out to the world, trying to bring the global game to the United States and opening up our borders for a festival of 32 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the world would be viewed in a very positive way," Gulati said.

"What happened over the last several months and what happened two weeks ago in Washington has dramatically changed the view of the United States and its leadership around the world. It would be impossible to think anything different. And for those of us who travel around the world quite a bit, that is noticeable, it's audible, it's visible. So that clearly is a positive for Chicago bidding for the Olympics [in 2016] and for any effort to bring the World Cup back here."

On Monday, the U.S., which staged the 1994 World Cup, formally announced its intention to seek the quadrennial world championship in 2018 and 2022, joining 10 other bidders who are doing the same thing. The decision on which two countries will host the tournaments will be made in December of 2010.

For a more on the U.S. bid, please see

-- Grahame L. Jones

Photo: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley makes a presentation as then President-elect Barack Obama appeared on a screen in the background during the 37th General Assembly of the European Olympic Committees in Istanbul, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2008. Credit: Murad Sezer / Associated Press