SOCCER / JULIE CART : Politics of the World Cup Keep Sport’s Leaders on Their Toes
Little that the public servants in Washington can dish up is as ruthless, back-stabbing and calculating as the politics of international sport.
Now that the U.S. Soccer Federation has heard the jingle-jangle of sponsor dollars and felt the warm glow of the spotlight, its politics are getting as ugly as its international brethren.
USSF president Alan Rothenberg is increasingly on the receiving end of attacks in ongoing political skirmishes. With Rothenberg’s profile, this is to be expected. The problem is not that there are attacks, but with the form they take. Some of the methods have been sophomoric, such as the anonymous Top 10 spoof that was distributed at the Final Draw that belittled the personal lives of World Cup officials.
Legitimate concerns about Rothenberg’s stewardship of the USSF as well as the World Cup organizing committee get lost in the petty sniping and obvious jealousy. The other problem is that few in the soccer family are willing to demonstrate that they have courage of their convictions. They complain endlessly, they allege, they hint, but they seldom speak on the record or put their name to paper.
Until recently. A letter written by Louis Palivos, president of the Illinois State Soccer Assn., was circulated last week, and it raised concerns about the financial accounting of the World Cup. Presented in the form of a resolution, it called for both the World Cup and the USSF to open their financial records and it raised questions about possible conflict of interest.
Rothenberg dismissed the allegations made in the letter as “utter nonsense.” He also sent a letter in response to state association presidents and the World Cup board of directors. His letter calls the resolution a “scurrilous document falsely accusing the officers and directors of the United States Soccer Federation and the World Cup Organizing Committee of a litany of illegal, unethical and secret activities.”
Rothenberg said last week that the resolutions did not reflect the feelings of the soccer community.
“It’s not the Illnois association,” Rothenberg said. “It’s one idiot. It’s an example of soccer federation politics at its worst.”
Palivos, a Chicago attorney, said the high-stakes financial dealings of the World Cup and their ramifications on the future of soccer in the United States makes full disclosure imperative.
“There are a number of us who are genuinely concerned about all the things in the letter,” Palivos said. “We think these are reasonable questions: What money is coming in? Where is the money going? How much are they getting paid? We in the state federations are part of soccer, and we believe we have a right to know.”
Rothenberg said the USSF and the World Cup’s books are open for inspection.
“We have no secrets,” he said.
World Cup ’94 joined soccer tradition with last month’s earthquake. Twice before a devastating earthquake threatened World Cup preparations--Chile in 1962 and Mexico in 1986.
Impoverished Chile was already on the brink when the earthquake struck, further crippling the nation’s infrastructure. Arguing that the World Cup should not be taken from his country, Chilean Football Federation president Carlos Dittborn implored, “We must have the World Cup because we have nothing.”
Mexico played host to the World Cup by default, after FIFA determined the the violence and political uncertainty in Colombia had grown too desperate. The quake that hit Mexico City in September of 1985 only served to galvanize public sentiment to the World Cup, and ease, in some way, the pain of rebuilding a country.
By comparison, the 1994 World Cup has experienced riots, floods, fires and earthquakes--in one venue. But the damage came to the Coliseum, not the Rose Bowl, where eight games will be played, including the final. There was some minor damage at World Cup headquarters in Century City, but the biggest headache the earthquake engendered for the organizers is logistic--how to transport FIFA officials from their westside hotels to Pasadena with a portion of the 10 freeway out of commission.
Meanwhile, soccer games at the Coliseum have been rescheduled: Mexico and Sweden will play at Fresno State on Feb. 24, and two games have been scheduled for East L.A. College--Colombia and South Korea on Feb. 26 and Bolivia and the Mexico City club team Pumas on Feb. 27.
World Cup officials caution not to make too much of Disney’s recent pullout of the opening and closing ceremony. Neither side is being specific about the split, but Rothenberg said the differences centered on the use of Disney characters. “We wanted a soccer event with Disney characters,” Rothenberg said. “Of course, they wanted it to be nothing but a Disney commercial.”
No contracts had been signed and Disney and World Cup entertainment executives are currently working on a Spanish language World Cup television special.
According to Chuck Gayton, vice president of entertainment productions for World Cup, the opening ceremony in Chicago and the closing ceremony in Pasadena will be produced by separate companies. In addition, each of the seven other venues will have a closing ceremony.
Gayton said the opening and closing ceremonies will last about 30 minutes and can be expected to feature the kind of glitz and high production values that American productions are known for.
“There won’t be a dull moment,” Gayton said.
The English Football Assn. wants to renegotiate its contract with Wembley Stadium, which runs through 2002, because it claims that the stadium takes too high a cut of the revenue from international matches. Wembley has for generations been the premier venue for top soccer in England. The dispute, if not settled, could affect the 1996 European Championship final, which is scheduled to be held at Wembley. . . . What does the folding of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the country’s oldest professional soccer club, say about the viability of pro soccer in the United States? . . . The city of Pasadena will hold a World Cup celebration Feb. 25 starting at 11 a.m. at Centennial Square.