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ON SOCCER

FIFA envoy is the only one benefiting from worldwide 'tour'

President of Chilean soccer federation is moving up fast in the sport's world governing body, but his travels to cities seeking to stage World Cups are nothing more than a dog and pony show.

September 04, 2010|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer

Sometime on Monday, an aircraft will touch down in the United States and from it will emerge a shaggy-haired, 49-year-old former journalist from Chile by the unlikely name of Harold Mayne-Nicholls.

That's when the latest round of fawning will begin.

Things have gone pretty well for Mayne-Nicholls since the days when he was scribbling reports on various doings in Santiago, Valparaiso and elsewhere. These days he glories in being not only president of the Chilean soccer federation but also a fast-rising FIFA suit.

For the last two months, or since the end of the financial debacle known as the South Africa 2010 World Cup, Mayne-Nicholls and a bunch of hangers-on have been touring the world — all expenses paid, of course — under the pretext of assessing the various nations craving to stage the tournament in 2018 or 2022.

The U.S., sad to say, is one of those nations, although its chances of landing 2018 are about equal to the chances of Mayne-Nicholls ever saying anything substantive or worthwhile.

What the much-hyped "tour" actually amounts to is a boondoggle, a chance for a few of FIFA's lesser lights to strut their stuff on a global stage even though not one of them has a real voice in the outcome.

Instead, Mayne-Nicholls and the rest will report to their superiors in Switzerland, many of whom long ago made up their minds, reports or no reports.

Just to get those less literate in soccer up to speed, there are nine candidates seeking to pick up the pieces after what promises to be the shambles of Brazil 2014, with that event already way over budget and way behind schedule.

Australia, England, Russia, the U.S., and joint bids by Spain and Portugal, and Netherlands and Belgium are seeking the World Cup in either year. Japan, Qatar and South Korea are looking only at 2022.

Both tournaments will be awarded at the same time.

The winners will be revealed Dec. 2 in Zurich, when the 24 men who make up FIFA's executive committee have cleared the smoke-filled Swiss rooms, counted their booty, looked to Joseph "Sepp" Blatter to see which way the FIFA president's wind is blowing, and cast their ballots.

Look for England or Russia to land 2018, with the latter's chances depending on just how much, uh, "influence" former KGB man Vladimir Putin has rather than on the outrageous promises the Russians have made.

After Europe gets 2018, look for the U.S. to have a reasonable shot at 2022, unless Qatar — yes, Qatar — can produce something so astonishing that the wealth, organization, infrastructure and facilities that the Americans unquestionably can deliver are left in the shade.

Shade, of course, could be a key. Temperatures in Qatar in June and July when the World Cup is played hover somewhere around 115 degrees on a cool day. The Qataris, who can match the U.S. dollar for dollar and then some, have promised air-conditioned stadia and transportation and a lot more.

Try getting an alcoholic drink in Doha, though.

In any event, it is now time for the U.S. to fete Mayne-Nicholls and his followers. Over three days this week, they will be treated to the glories of the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; FedExField in Landover, Md.; Sun Life Stadium in Miami; Reliant Stadium in Houston; and Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In other words, to convince FIFA that the U.S. is a soccer-passionate nation, the suits will be shown the respective homes of the New York Giants and New York Jets, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys. That's sure to impress.

Maybe Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer's president, can get Mayne-Nicholls an NFL helmet while he's at it.

Of course, when the tour is over, the Chilean will say all the right things, just as he has done at all the other stops on his circuitous route. There has been nothing but praise. A broken record sounds better.

"Seoul's endeavor is to deliver what today's world needs most — peace for men," he said in South Korea, sounding an awful lot like the insufferable Blatter.

Having England as host "would be a great experience with a long-lasting legacy for the country and its people as well as for football worldwide," Mayne-Nicholls said.

"Our report is going to be very positive," he said Friday after finishing the Spain-Portugal portion of the junket.

It must be ego-satisfying for FIFA's suits to attend meetings in the Kremlin, to mix and mingle with Putin and his ilk, or to dine at St. Petersburg's Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was murdered — not that history has taught FIFA much.

It must be equally ego-inflating to sip wine at No. 10 Downing Street — even though British Prime Minister David Cameron had to call Blatter and apologize for being on vacation at the time — or to be courted by presidents and prime ministers and grinned at by the various but vacuous big-name athletes and celebrities who are trotted out on demand.

Do we really want these people here again?

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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