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Posted at 4:30 PM ET, 09/ 8/2010

Why the World Cup sales pitch snubbed RFK

By Aaron Morrissey

Representatives from FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, are touring the United States this week. Officials from the USA Bid Committee for the World Cup are wining and dining the delegation, in the hope that FIFA will award the United States the right to host the World Cup in 2018 (highly unlikely) or 2022 (for which America is actually considered a favorite). The folks from FIFA started their tour in New York on Tuesday, and swung through Washington this morning before jetting off to Miami.

With just a few short hours to encapsulate the District's potential as a host site, U.S. bid officials took the delegation -- headed by Chilean Football Federation President Harold Mayne-Nicholls -- to the top of the Washington Monument to survey the Mall, which could serve as a gathering place for fans from around the world. They showed them the Washington Convention Center, which could serve as a headquarters for FIFA's logistical operations. Finally, they traveled to FedEx Field, which, with a capacity of more than 90,000, could be a major tournament venue -- perhaps for the opening match or even the final.

Dave McKenna of the Washington City Paper, however, wasn't exactly pleased with the itinerary, which he believes snubbed RFK Stadium. "Not even a drop-by at R.F.K. Stadium," McKenna wondered, "the only pro soccer venue in the city and the home of D.C. United, the flagship franchise of America's top soccer league?"

Of course, the answer is simple: RFK Stadium simply isn't fit for hosting a World Cup match.

It's easy to wax nostalgic about the current home of D.C. United. After all, until recently, it was home to some pretty good soccer -- at least when United wasn't getting shut out in two of every three games. United has called it home for its entire existence, and a rabid fan base has created an intimidating atmosphere that is magnified when the team is playing well. The stadium also has an international soccer pedigree, having hosted matches during the wildly successful 1994 World Cup, the 1996 Olympics and the 2003 Women's World Cup, in addition to being in regular rotation for U.S. World Cup qualification matches. The stadium has also hosted numerous international friendlies, both including the home team and without it (like the 1993 Italian SuperCup and a memorable Barcelona-AC Milan friendly in 2003). Plus, it's actually in the District.

But pedigree and geographic pride go only so far. United has been pining for a new stadium for years. (Besides, the argument that the stadium is fit for the local MLS side -- a very weak statement, to boot -- hardly means that it is suitable to host the biggest sporting event in the world.) RFK is, quite literally, falling apart. There are rats, cats and -- no kidding -- a raccoon roaming the RFK corridors. There is a Metro station nearby, but as anyone who has attended a big soccer match can tell you, Stadium-Armory is not the best station for getting large numbers of people in and out efficiently. Any of these factors is sufficient enough to disqualify the stadium from consideration. But when you take into consideration that there are shinier, newer stadiums across the country begging to host the Cup -- including a bigger, newer facility just over the state line in Maryland -- it's a no-brainer.

Put it this way: If you were given a little over three hours to woo a group of people who are accustomed to having countries bend over backward to spend tons of money on stadia to host their tournament, would you take them to RFK Stadium? I don't think so.

Aaron Morrissey blogs at DCist. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Aaron Morrissey  | September 8, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, sports  
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1978 Buenos Aires
1982 Madrid
1986 Mexico City
1990 Rome
1994 Los Angeles
1998 Paris
2002 Yokahama
2006 Berlin
2010 Johannesburg 2014 Rio de Janeiro 2018 Barcelona ? 2022 Maryland ?

Posted by: gpoi | September 8, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

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