The decision on the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments will be revealed in Zurich in less than an hour from now.
America’s final pitch to host to the 2022 World Cup was left to a former president and an Oscar-winning actor, who talked of diversity and outlined an aggressive economic plan in a 30-minute presentation with hopes of sweeping past Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea in today’s vote.
While Clinton’s speech veered into highlights of his own foundation’s achievements, Freeman invoked the name of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who helped bring the 2010 World Cup to that nation. Freeman portrayed Mandela in the movie “Invictus,” based on the former political prisoner’s role in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and using it to unite a country separated by apartheid.
“We are now the most diverse nation on earth,” Freeman said. “And our patchwork heritage is our greatest strength.”
Freeman later introduced the video of Obama, who delivered a similar message of inclusion.
“Ours has always been a nation of great diversity and great promise,” Obama said. “Anything is possible.”
The World Cup bid team noted that no infrastructure needs to be built to host the tournament in the U.S. The Americans also highlighted the growth of soccer in the country since it hosted the World Cup for the first time in 1994.
The single item that could sway voters toward the American bid is its moneymaking potential. Among the 18 proposed game sites are the new, suite-filled stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants and Jets.
The vote for the 2018 World Cup site will also be announced in less than an hour from now, with England, Russia, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands competing for the honor.
The bid process has been by far the most controversial that FIFA has ever overseen. Its decision to decide the fate of both the 2018 and 2022 bids at the same time has been widely criticized for encouraging vote collusion between bids — an accusation FIFA deny.
But it was the revelations by the British newspaper the Sunday Times that has marred the process. Undercover journalists secretly filmed two members of FIFA’s then 24-strong executive committee allegedly offering to sell their votes. The accusations of corruption resulted in the suspension of two voters, leaving 22.
The corruption allegations didn’t stop England from pushing ahead in its bid, with David Beckham, Prince Williams and British Prime Minister David Cameron all schmoozing with FIFA voters in Zurich.
The other 2022 presenters did their best to highlight their nations’ strongest qualities:
Australia used supermodel Elle Macpherson and an animated kangaroo to back up its catchphrase of being the “world’s greatest playground.”
Qatar, which may have had the slickest show, relied mainly on proving it can keep the country cool during the blazing hot summer months.
South Korea played the political angle, saying a World Cup on its soil could foster peace relations on the divided peninsula.
“We saw that football has the power to bring people together, to end enmity and to spur reconciliation,” South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said. “It gave us a vision that the World Cup in 2022 can be a celebration of peace for Korea and the world.”
Japan appears to have very little support for the bid within FIFA.
The Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, will announce the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 competitions in less than an hour from now. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the prime ministers of South Korea, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium have flown to Zurich to push their countries bids. Hosting the tournament is worth about $5 billion, according to American estimates.
The results will be known any time now. Stay tuned!