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Michael Lewis

June 15, 2010
Gulati has a master plan for the U.S. to get 2018/2022 World Cup

By Michael Lewis Editor

JOHANNESBURG -- The USA Bid Committee announced last week that Morgan Freeman will join its board of directors in its quest to bring the World Cup to the United States in 2018 or 2022.

In retrospect, Freeman joining the effort should not be a surprise to no one, given one of the men behind the bid -- U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

The timing of the announcement could not have been better. Freeman, an Academy Award winning actor, most recently starred as Nelson Mandela in the movie, Invictus. The Clint Eastwood film was about the South African national rugby team at the 1995 rugby World Cup and how it helped reunify a country that was split apart by apartheid.

Freeman frighteningly was spot on as Madiba, who was then president of South Africa at a crucial time in the country's history. He joins an impressive and diverse list of board of directors that includes director Spike Lee, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, comedian Drew Carey and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others.

Gulati is one very smart dude who has vision, whether it be short- and long-range. He is pushing many of the buttons to get the U.S. either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup (signs point to a European country hosting the 2018 event, so the U.S. will have to battle Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea for 2022 honors.

Gulati's bid committee produced a superb, five-volume bid that sparkled substance and style (yes, I had an opportunity to look it over), having every t crossed and every i dotted, from governmental guarantees to 18 stadiums throughout four time zones with a projected attendance of more than five million (breaking the record of 3.6 million set at USA 94) to environmental impact reports.

Gulati, bid committee chairman David Downs and company are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to bring the World Cup back to the United States. They don't want to give FIFA any other choice but to award the tournament to the USA.

Just look at these three developments in May:

* Some 77,507 spectators watched Mexico and Ecuador play to scoreless draw at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. the first stand-alone sporting event at the $1.7 billion facility. If the U.S. is awarded the World Cup, many observers have tipped the stadium to host the final.

* Former President Clinton was named honorary chairman of the USA Bid Committee, an announcement in Harlem that received national TV play.

* And U.S. Soccer announced that the United States will play five-time world champion Brazil at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Aug. 10. What a coup it would be if Brazilians are called six-time world champions by then. Regardless, hosting Brazil is always a big deal (and before you ask, yes, Aug. 10 is an official international playing date, so key players could be called into the team).

Gulati certainly knows what he is doing, making a convincing argument to FIA in every way possible.

With FIFA naming both World Cup hosts in Zurich, Switzerland on Dec. 2 (I would not be surprised if Clinton is in the U.S. delegation for an 11th-hour push, Gulati, the USA Bid Committee and U.S. Soccer will have many more opportunities to make some more news.

Just waiting in anticipation as to what Gulati's next move or announcement just might be.

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