Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, architect of president Richard Nixon’s detente with China, faced a new diplomatic challenge on Monday — helping craft a US bid to host the soccer World Cup.
“I obviously want the World Cup to come here,” the Nobel Peace Prize-winner and soccer fan told reporters at a briefing to announce his involvement with the US soccer federation’s bid for the 2018 or 2022 tournament.
“I don’t think we have a huge chance in 2018, it will probably go to Europe, but you can’t tell. We have a good chance for 2022,” Kissinger said. “I’ll be 99 years old [in 2022], so it’s sort of an obligation to stay around.”
Next year’s World Cup finals are being played in South Africa and Brazil has been awarded the 2014 tournament.
Apart from the US, other formal expressions of interest in bidding for 2018 or 2022 have come from England, Australia, Japan, Qatar, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and South Korea. There are also joint proposals from Belgium and the Netherlands and Spain and Portugal.
Kissinger was recruited by US Soccer to join the USA Bid Committee to present world soccer’s governing body FIFA with proposals to stage a second World Cup in the US. The 1994 tournament was held in the US.
“I was on the board in ’94, actively involved, and went to a lot of the games,” Kissinger said. “I’ve gone to every World Cup except the one in Japan [and South Korea in 2002].”
Asked what he would stress to FIFA in a bid, Kissinger said enthusiastic crowds were one of the key things the US offered.
“In most World Cups, the preliminary games don’t have huge attendance. If Yemen plays Egypt, people don’t rush to see it, unless it’s in one of those countries,” he said. “[In 1994] we were sold out at practically every game.”
Noting the Americans reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, the former diplomat said the standard of the game in the US was getting better.
“I’d like it to become a major sport. But it’s tough finding a time as there’s always some other sport overlapping with Major League Soccer,” Kissinger said.
“But it’s progressing. We had bad luck because when the World Cup was here, the final was nothing-nothing,” he said of the 1994 final won by Brazil in a penalty shootout over Italy after a goalless draw.
“Americans don’t appreciate the finer points of defensive soccer,” he said. “The American public wants more scoring.”
German-born Kissinger said he followed the fortunes of second division club SpVgg Greuther Fuerth in his Bavarian hometown, as well as Juventus in Italy’s Serie A and both Manchester United and Arsenal in the English Premier League.