NEW YORK – Bill Clinton is ready for another campaign, this one to bring the World Cup to the United States.
The former president will serve as honorary chairman of the nation’s bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. The United States submitted the paperwork for the bid to FIFA last week; hosts for each tournament will be selected Dec. 2.
“We now have seven months of hard work ahead,” Clinton said after raising a jersey with his name and the number 11 on it at FC Harlem Field at the Children’s Aid Society. “The passion for soccer has never been more visible.”
Clinton joins New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. women’s star Mia Hamm among the members of the board of directors for the bid committee.
Clinton was in office when the United States hosted the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup, attending games at both events.
“At the 1994 World Cup opener in Soldier Field, I was the first president to watch a World Cup game on U.S. soil,” he recalled. “I was grateful to have the chance to be the president during a World Cup.”
Adding that the ’94 tournament resulted in a $50 million surplus for U.S. Soccer and for the event’s organizers, Clinton mentioned how profitable a future World Cup in the United States could be. Because each of the 18 cities that would stage games has a large stadium — average capacity would be more than 76,000, which no country currently can match — and is home to large contingents of soccer fans who root for other nations, the projected economic stimulus is $400-$600 million per city. A record 5 million tickets could be sold for about $1 billion in tickets revenues. An overall economic impact of $5 billion is reachable, according to the bid committee.
But Clinton stressed other issues as highlights of the U.S. bid, particularly the 12 percent of Americans who are foreign born and provide a solid base of fans for whatever teams make the tournament.
Most significant, he said, is the effect the sport has throughout the world.
“Soccer is a metaphor for the way the world should work in the 21st century,” Clinton said. “What we have in common is more important than our differences. We want the world to look more like the world of soccer.
“I have spent much time in countries that are extremely poor, but they know about soccer everywhere. They play, sometimes barefoot on rocky ground with makeshift goals. But they play.
“I’ve seen countries stop fighting because of the game. It’s a sport that brings people together across all lines.”
Also vying for both tournaments are England, Australia, Russia, and joint bids from Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal.
Bidding for 2022 only are Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati believes Clinton is the perfect chairman for the U.S. bid because the former president will take an active role in the entire process.
Clinton already was doing so Monday.
“I hope the announcement today gets a lot of people to sign the (online) petition,” Clinton said. “I think if 10 million people go online at goUSAbid.com and sign the petition, it will be more important than me being named honorary chairman.”