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FIFA holds classes for World Cup bidding teams

The 11 bid teams hoping to win hosting rights for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup soccer tournament will sit together in the same room at FIFA headquarters on Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The 11 bid teams hoping to win hosting rights for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup soccer tournament will sit together in the same room at FIFA headquarters on Wednesday.

The group session sets up a week of team-by-team workshops as soccer's world governing body helps teach the candidates how to stage its monthlong, multibillion-dollar tournament.

FIFA requires bidders to provide world-class stadiums, hotels, transport and digital communication links. They must also demonstrate corporate and social responsibility, and environmental awareness.

Even for teams like the United States, which staged the World Cup as recently as 1994, there is a "back to school" feel about the exercise.

"FIFA is much more helpful to the bidding nations in terms of describing what it is we need to accomplish," David Downs, executive director of USA Bid Committee Inc., told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "This week is about knowledge transfer. They are trying to share, in a manner as openly as possible with all of us present, all of their learning."

The U.S. faces Australia, England, Japan, Mexico and Russia, plus joint bids from Belgium-Netherlands and Spain-Portugal, in the 2018 and 2022 contests. Indonesia, Qatar and South Korea have applied only for the 2022 finals.

Rival executives are staying in the same hotel near FIFA's hillside base and getting to know each other on the bidding circuit. Most met in South Africa during the Confederations Cup in June, and all were at a first round of workshops in Zurich last month.

"It is always friendly. We exchange business cards, we make fun of ourselves," said Alexey Sorokin, director of Russia's bid and chief executive of its soccer federation.

Downs and Indonesia's bid spokesman Syarif Bastaman agree that no team is sharing strategy details 16 months before the decisive votes by FIFA's executive committee.

Indonesia was the surprise name when the starting lineup was declared in February, and is anxious to play exactly by FIFA's rules in its debut at this level.

"For us it is making sure that we are in line with FIFA guidelines in every step of the preparations. That is our mission," said Bastaman, a Football Association of Indonesia executive member. "We must convince people that Indonesia is an important football country. Then FIFA will consider us seriously."

Bastaman is confident that Indonesia's economic growth can sustain building at least eight new stadiums to reach FIFA's required target of 12, one of which must hold 80,000 spectators for the opening and final matches.

Russia and the U.S. are among several technically strong bids that have most venues already built and a surplus of eager host cities.

"Every region and every governor wants to be a part of it," said Sorokin, who expects to include 14 cities in the detailed bid book that must be delivered to FIFA next May.

He believes the 24 FIFA voters, chaired by president Sepp Blatter, will be swayed by bids that go beyond technical excellence.

"In terms of social aspects and legacy and the story behind the bid, that is where you have certain latitude," Sorokin said. "It is where people need to use their imagination."

Downs said the U.S. bid will focus on features "that will change the nature of the game both in America and globally."

That could involve developing the Fan Parks concept, a huge success at the 2006 World Cup in Germany where hundreds of thousands of supporters without tickets gathered to share a drink and watch live concerts and matches relayed on big screens.

"The World Cup has really transformed from being an event about ticket-holders on match day to an event that's about the country as a whole and the spirit of the competition," Downs said.

He hopes that the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and New York City's Central Park could one day be in play.

This week in Zurich could be the 11 teams' last formal gathering before the 2010 World Cup finals draw is staged in Cape Town in December, though informal lobbying is expected at upcoming world age group tournaments in Egypt and Nigeria.