NEW YORK – The United States dropped its bid to host the 2018 World Cup and will focus on winning the right to hold the tournament four years later, the US Bid Committee announced on Friday.
It's been widely speculated that the '18 tournament would go to Europe, and Friday's announcement makes it official. The four European competitors – Belgium/Netherlands, England, Russia and Spain/Portugal – will battle each other, while Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Qatar join the US in a quest to host in '22.
As momentum for Europe increased, there were discussions about whether the Americans should remove themselves from the '18 running. However, in September, bid committee chairman David Downs spoke with MLSsoccer.com about the circumstances in which the US would only focus on '22.
"We're not just going to step aside because a bunch of people opine that Europe is going to win," he said. "There are no actual negative consequences to Europe winning in 2018. It doesn't penalize us in the 2022 vote."
"If someone were to give us a real incentive to step aside rather than just because everybody thinks that's the right thing to do, than absolutely, we'd consider it."
So did the American contingent receive any "real incentives"?
Probably not. Though Downs declined to comment through a spokesperson, the US didn't have much bargaining leverage with the committee. Additionally, FIFA rules prohibit any agreements between members of the 24-person executive committee that will vote on who will host the '18 tournament on Dec. 2.
The move is more about timing. The executive committee will meet on Oct. 28 and 29 to finalize the voting process, and the American group felt it was necessary to make their intentions clear. Hosting the '18 tournament was an extremely remote possibility, so dropping out is the reasonable thing to do — and puts the US bid in the spotlight again.
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“The announcement today by the USA bid to focus solely on the 2022 FIFA World Cup is therefore a welcome gesture which is much appreciated by FIFA,” FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke said in a statement after the decision was made.
In his office, Downs has five massive green binders and five equally large black binders on a shelf. The former is paperwork for the '22 tournament, the latter is documentation for four years earlier.
"An awful lot of work went into those black volumes," he said last month.
Unfortunately, it appears as though some of that effort was for naught.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.