A CASCADIA WORLD CUP IS JUST WHAT WE NEED RIGHT NOW
The world is a mess. Soccer is corrupt. Let’s turn things around in 2022.
The Cascadia World Cup will belong to the people and the planet. Hosted by the greenest cities in North America, the tournament will be powered by renewable energy, linked by high speed rail, broadcast on every platform, and organized together with the people of the region highlighting their hopes and dreams for our shared future. The event will be managed with the strictest integrity to meet triple bottom-line objectives, restoring honor to the most beloved sporting event on the planet. At a time when the world seems to be on the precipice of ecological collapse, political authoritarianism, and economic dysfunction, the Cascadia World Cup will offer an example of our ability to counter cynicism and hopelessness. The Cascadia World Cup is about making a better world.
FIFA is Awful and the World Hates Them
FIFA is in crisis and desperately needs to change course. 2015 represented a nadir in the history of the organization, with the arrest of multiple FIFA officials and likely extradition to face corruption charges in the United States. FIFA President Sepp Blattner was forced to resign, and has come under withering criticism for decisions made during his tenure. Chief among these is the highly tainted process that led to the award of the next two World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar. The selection process is generally viewed as suspect at best and corrupt at worst. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was controversial in its own right, fundamentally destabilizing the country. The lead-up to the matches included mass protests against official corruption, unfulfilled government promises of public infrastructure, and overall gigantism in the face of serious social and environmental problems. Compared to the next two hosts, this is relatively benign.
Rewarding Bad Behavior
The 2018 World Cup is scheduled to be held in Russia. Russia, which only recently orchestrated the annexation of Crimea, the first conquest of sovereign soil in Europe since World War II. Russia, which continues to engage in asymmetrical warfare in eastern Ukrainian resulting in thousands of deaths, including the 298 innocent civilians on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Russia, which has intervened directly in the Syrian civil war to support the brutal despotism of President Assad. Russia, which U.S intelligence agencies confirmed to have manufactured fake news and illegal hacks to undermine democratic elections in the United States, France, Germany, and elsewhere. Add to this the routine persecution of gays, journalists, and opposition activists, and the pageantry of the 2014 Socchi Winter Olympics, which reminded many of Hitler’s 1936 Berlin spectacle. Surely, this is not an experience FIFA is eager to repeat.
In 2022, however, FIFA plans to follow up the Putin World Cup with host Qatar. Much has been made of the extreme heat players can expect when taking the pitch, as well as the poor working conditions of Qatar’s foreign population. It is widely believed that the tiny Persian Gulf country won its bid with bribes. Qatar is currently under siege from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar’s adventurous foreign policy, including support of Islamist groups around the Middle East, raises additional concerns. Officially, the Qatari government supports Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and it does not prosecute wealthy individuals and foundations within the country that lend financial support to ISIS, the Nusra Front, and al Qaida. Given the recent expansion of ISIS terror to the streets of Istanbul and Paris, the world should not reward Qatar for bad behavior with a World Cup tournament. And in any case, it’s too bloody hot in Qatar.
Given the suspicious circumstances under which these venues were chosen, and the prospect of consecutive events taking place in an unpleasant authoritarian atmosphere, FIFA is under considerable pressure to reconsider its decisions. The best outcome would be to choose new host countries and regions that restore the integrity and values of the sport. The Pacific Northwest represents just such a remedy.
Why it Matters
The symbolism of global sports is powerful, both for good and for ill. The right event in the right place at the right time can be a compelling indication of progress and universal values. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa served as an opportunity to heal after decades of Apartheid, and was widely viewed as one of FIFA’s greatest moments. The 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo became a reminder of more hopeful times after the breakup of Yugoslavia. When Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the World Cup in 2002, in signified a new era after of cooperation to emerge from the scars of occupation and war.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly difficult to find democratic countries willing to host major sporting events. They are increasingly viewed as a scam in which the organizing committees make excessive demands of the host cities, such as new stadiums and executive accommodations, that offer little benefit to long term residents. Bostonians roundly rejected their selection as the US candidate city for the 2024 Summer Olympics, sparking a local movement called “No Boston Olympics” which campaigned for better housing and transit instead of a sporting event. Brazilians are just getting over the World Cup and are now facing even greater societal tension surrounding the upcoming Rio Olympics. Most recent selection committees have been forced to choose from a pool of bidders all too willing to exploit their citizens to branding their status credentials as world powers. The 2022 Winter Olympics came down to a choice between Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 marked an alarming turn towards authoritarianism in the United States, itself. True to autocratic form, the President immediately made it a personal goal to help secure the Los Angeles bid for the Summer Olympics. The truth is that the United States at large does not currently represent an antidote to the corrupt and kleptocratic countries the World Cup has chosen to favor, but Cascadia does. The Pacific Northwest has been a strong base of resistance to American authoritarianism, the rule of law, and human rights. Moving the World Cup specifically to this region would be a powerful bi-national statement for the values that this sporting event should represent.
The Cascadia World Cup would help return the event to the symbol of hope and unity it should be. Vancouver served as the host and premier destination for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Thousands of enthusiasts of all ages made their way north across the border to watch their beloved stars shine in the final match, proving beyond a doubt the regional appetite for elite soccer. Vancouver is a proven host of major world sporting events, most recently in the 2010 Winter Olympics, which along with the thrills produced an eco-district Olympic Village.
Seattle is still known for the 1962 World’s Fair, which continues to define the city’s skyline and central civic space. Since that time, Seattle has emerged as a truly global city, renowned for its technology, arts, and progressive ideas. Seattle’s mayors and non-profit groups such as the Gates Foundation offer national and international leadership on climate change, public health, and global poverty. It is also a great sports city, with some of the newest football and baseball facilities and a terrific fan base.
Portland is the smallest of the Cascadia metro areas, but is widely regarded as a Mecca for sustainability and modern urban design. It is also home to an exuberant economy based on outdoor sports, micro-brews, creative start-ups, and do-it-yourself manufacturing. As study groups flock to the most European city in the United States, sponsors are increasingly viewing Portland as a suitable host for large events, including the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships. Portland was also a very successful host city for the 2003 Women’s World Cup semi-finals match, which was moved to the United States on short notice due to concerns about SARS in China.
All three Cascadia cities share a green ethic that includes aggressive climate action plans, multi-modal transportation, and spectacular natural beauty. The region is also a meeting place of Asia and Europe, the terminus of westward migration by European settlers and the jumping off point for the larger Pacific Rim. This is visible both in the faces of the people and the look of the cities’ skylines. Cascadia cities are also working hard to address the social inequities of our times, including housing and homelessness, racial justice, and the gap between rich and poor.
For FIFA, a World Cup hosted by these three eco-cities is exactly what the doctor ordered. The political culture of Cascadia is so clean it’s almost boring. For the cities and citizens of Cascadia, this is an opportunity to offer a vision for the future and a showcase for the values and ideas they have been incubating in the Pacific Northwest with little fanfare. It will also offer an incentive for the region to invest in a new shared low-carbon infrastructure for the 21st century.
Cascadia represents the future of a better planet. It is also home to some of the world’s most innovative and successful businesses. The Nike world headquarters is located in the Portland area, as is the North American headquarters or Adidas, both major sponsors of previous world cups, teams, and star players. Dozens of other smaller athletic companies maintain a presence in the region.
The Seattle area is home to Microsoft and Amazon, major powers in the technology and entertainment industry. Microsoft is investing in research up and down the “Cascadia Innovation Corridor,” and Intel’s main research and development facility is located in Hillsboro, Oregon The gaming tie-in with FIFA is especially strong, and Vancouver is widely recognized as the international capital of that industry, with leading companies such as EA and Rockstar. Portland’s Elemental developed the webcast platform for live streaming of the London Olympics and the Rio World Cup. Vancouver is often referred to as “Hollywood North” for its many film and TV productions. The number of potential corporate partnerships is limitless.
In addition, the founders and CEOs of these companies have become champions and investors in regional sports. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owns both the Portland Trailblazers and the Seattle Seahawks, and is part owner of the Sounders. Phil Knight, founder of Nike, is a massive investor in the University of Oregon and its sports program. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently purchased the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Jeff Mallett, the creator of Yahoo!, is co-owner of the Whitecaps. This is a powerful group of people to rally behind a Cascadia World Cup bid.
From a viewership perspective the West Coast of the US is well situated, with a negligible time zone difference with Latin America. It also creates a decent broadcast time in China if games are played at 3pm and 8pm.
A New Soccer Generation
Soccer continues to grow in popularity in the United States, and has found a particularly devoted fan base in the Pacific Northwest. The arrival of Major League Soccer in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland appeals to a global sensibility and a shifting demographic base. America’s fans are younger than those of other sports — second only to football among 12–24 year-olds.
According to the Economist, Soccer now has larger average attendance per game in the United States than basketball and hockey, at 18,600 per match. The average MLS franchise is worth $103 million, up 175% over the last five years. American tastes for international soccer are also on the rise, as evidenced by the fact that NBC paid $250m for broadcast rights to the EPL.
The United States hosted its last FIFA World Cup tournament in 1994. It was generally considered a moderate success, but ratings and ticket sales have grown considerably since then and FIFA is rumored to be eager to return to the market. The timing is ripe for a North American host, but this time it should represent more than a coast-to-coast mega-tournament connected by long flights and TV sports networks. A World Cup in the bi-national Cascadia region represents a chance to inspire the world with a convergence of higher values and sport.
The cities of the Pacific Northwest have rallied around their MLS teams — the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps — with an organic passion unlike anywhere else on the continent. Committed fan groups such as the Timbers Army and the Emerald City Supporters travel up and down the I-5 corridor for hotly contested rivals matches, culminating in this year’s championship run by the Portland Timbers. Team kit is sported throughout the cities of the Northwest, transcending all demographic categories, from immigrant neighborhoods to girls’ soccer clubs, from hipster hangouts to suburban parks. Soccer is huge and growing.
What Needs to Happen
Advocating for a successful Cascadia World Cup is a two-step process:
Step 1: Lobbying the US Soccer Federation to advance Cascadia as an alternate host to Qatar in 2022.
Step 2: An aggressive global campaign to pressure FIFA to rescind its selection, and re-open the bid.
FIFA may be seriously wounded, but it remains an intimidating force in the sport and the US Soccer Federation will not cross it lightly. That’s why any successful effort should start with an influential organizing committee that makes an unassailable case for the Cascadia World Cup. Initial outreach should include:
- Current club owners;
- Leading CEOs;
- Mayors and governors;
- Statewide sports associations;
- Labor and environmental groups.
The US Soccer Federation may initially resist hosting a World Cup in a single region of the United States, especially one that excludes the East Coast, Texas, California, and other major population centers. This can be countered by the argument that it is precisely the low impact, low carbon, lower cost event that makes such a compelling contrast to FIFA’s previous decisions. In addition, the inclusion of Vancouver makes it a binational event, which expands scope and support for the Cascadia World Cup to both sides of the border. The organizing committee will engage the creative communities of the Cascadia cities to launch a viral campaign in support of the concept and shaming FIFA into making the change.
On the technical level, the region must demonstrate that it has a minimum of eight venues of sufficient size to host matches. At the moment, the list includes BC Place in Vancouver, CenturyLink Field and Husky Stadium in Seattle, the Tacoma Dome, Reser Stadium at Oregon State and Autzen Stadium at the University of Oregon. Portland would need to offer a firm commitment to build a new stadium for the Timbers and Thorns (the professional women’s team), something it will likely need to do in the next decade in any case. Additionally, the Washington State and University of Idaho football stadiums could serve as additional host sites. Intriguingly, some renderings of Cascadia also extend the borders to include Hawaii, which could offer a “bonus venue.”
Once Cascadia is recognized as a potential host, the region’s leaders must come together to lay out a vision for a comprehensive upgrade of regional infrastructure. Much of this is simply the realization of longstanding plans that have not had a sufficient catalyst to make them real. The I-5 corridor is already an electric vehicle superhighway, but the Pacific Northwest would commit to further electrification and a coal-free grid to power the games. President Obama’s stimulus package began investing in high-speed rail plans between Eugene and Seattle. It is time to take these off the shelf and build them in record time — all the way to Vancouver and through the issuance of green bonds. Additional investments in local transit, bridges, housing and highways would also be critical.
It starts here, with a few people. The idea grows and resonates with this moment in time, until it begins to feel like it must happen. Then the idea belongs to everyone. This is what it feels like to shed cynicism. To resist. To welcome back hope. To launch a festival of the human spirit. This is the Cascadia World Cup.