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Published: Wednesday, 12/8/2010

Soccer's global reach

To the consternation of some soccer fans, the sport's international governing body has chosen Russia and Qatar as the sites of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup championships, rejecting a U.S. bid to host the 2022 tournament.

The bids from Qatar and Russia succeeded, in part, because of the governing body's sensible policy of expanding the sport's global reach as broadly as possible.

This year, South Africa became the first African country to host the World Cup. Russia will be the first Eastern European country to host the event, and Qatar the first Middle East venue.

More than 200 nations compete for invitations to the World Cup. The tournament assembles the world's 32 best national teams.

The United States made a strong case for hosting the 2022 World Cup. It offered a delegation headed by former President Bill Clinton, good infrastructure, and rich attendance and television revenues.

Soccer is growing in popularity in America. The U.S.-hosted 1994 World Cup set an attendance record of 3.6 million people. As more young Americans play the sport, its prospects are strong. Major League Soccer is in its 15th season in the United States.

Points against the United States included what some officials called heavy-handed security measures encountered in entering and traveling in the country. America also appeared to pay a price in world opinion for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States lost its bid last year for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, despite President Obama's enthusiastic support. Russia, by contrast, was granted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But the determining point in the choices of Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup was that, like South Africa this year, the nations will set regional precedents. That is consistent with soccer's image as a world sport.

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