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Sunil Gulati says U.S. might abandon 2018 World Cup bid in favor of 2022

September 10, 2010 | 12:48 pm

Repeating statements he made during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said Friday that the U.S. might abandon its quest to stage the tournament in 2018 and concentrate on 2022 instead.

"If at some point between now and Dec. 2 we think it is in our best interests to do that, we would make that decision," Gulati said during an early-morning conference call.

Dec. 2 is the date that FIFA's 24-man executive committee, meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, will announce its choice of host nations for 2018 and 2022. The widespread belief, since Brazil was awarded the 2014 tournament in the wake of South Africa being the 2010 host, was that Europe would stage the quadrennial event in 2018.

"We haven't been asked to withdraw, but I acknowledge, and we have really from the beginning, that there is a sentiment within a number of members [of the executive committee] that 2018 should be in Europe," Gulati said.

Later in the day, Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of State and a member of the U.S. bid committee, told the Associated Press that "I think that it's reasonable for Europe to get it in 2018."

There are four bidding interests from Europe. England is the favorite, followed by Russia and then by joint bids from Portugal and Spain and from Belgium and the Netherlands.

If the U.S. does bow out and 2018 goes to Europe, the Americans would be up against Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea in their effort to land the 32-team tournament in 2022.

Further complicating matters is the possibility that China might want to stage the 2026 World Cup and, if FIFA sees that as a positive in its effort to grow the sport in Asia, the likelihood of Japan or South Korea being chosen for 2022 would diminish. The two nations co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. Similarly, Australia and Qatar would fall out of the running because they also are members of the Asian soccer confederation and FIFA would not award Asia back-to-back tournaments in 2022 and 2026.

That would make 2022 a virtual lock for the U.S., which is why Gulati on Friday was quick to give his thoughts on a potential China bid for 2026.

"I don't think anyone would doubt that China would make a great host in the future, especially after what they did with the Olympic Games and the growth and size of the economy," he said.

-- Grahame L. Jones