Teamwork On and Off the Field: 1994 FIFA World Cup

Enjoy this year’s FIFA World Cup from November 20 to December 18, 2022, hosted by Qatar, and in just four years, watch out for the 2026 FIFA World Cup tickets for matches in 11 U.S. cities. Today’s post comes from Callie Belback from the National Archives History Office.

On June 16, 2022, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) announced the 16 cities chosen to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States; 11 of those cities are located throughout the U.S. The 2026 FIFA World Cup will include 48 different national teams and a total of 80 matches, making it the biggest FIFA World Cup tournament in history.

In May of 1904, seven national soccer associations—Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland—formed FIFA in order to provide unity among national soccer associations and “foster friendly relations.” The creation of this organization was a result of the growing number of international games being played at the start of the 20th century.

As an administrative authority, FIFA oversees all aspects of the sport, including regulating the rules of play, overseeing the transfer of players, organizing tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup, establishing referee and coaching standards, and encouraging soccer’s development around the world. The FIFA World Cup is a quadrennial international men’s soccer tournament and is one of the world’s most watched sporting event. 

In 1990, more than one billion people watched the FIFA World Cup Championship Game on television, one-fifth of the world’s population at that time. Four years later, the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup, which organizers estimated would bring in $4 billion to the U.S. economy alone. Ten major corporations, such as Coca-Cola, Mastercard, General Motors, and McDonalds, committed to being official sponsors of the 1994 FIFA World Cup games. The World Cup host cities were Chicago, Dallas, New York (East Rutherford, NJ), Boston (Foxboro, MA), Orlando, Detroit (Pontiac, MI), San Francisco (Palo Alto, CA), Los Angeles (Pasadena and Stanford, CA), and Washington DC. 

A major global event, the 1994 FIFA World Cup was highly anticipated for players, spectators, and the U.S. government itself. While the FIFA World Cup is a spectacular event on its own, what is also striking is the level of coordination and work that goes into planning the World Cup. Every time a country hosts a World Cup tournament, the national government must coordinate among many different agencies and departments to ensure the success of the many aspects of a premier world sporting event. 

In order for the United States to officially become a host nation, the U.S. government had to sign off on the bid. In 1987, Congress passed a Joint Resolution acknowledging the United States’ duty of hosting a World Cup tournament, including: “financing, transportation, security, communications, and physical accommodation.” 

In addition, Congress made sure to highlight the tournament’s benefit of being “a tremendous impetus to national and international tourism, because the games would bring people from all nations together in friendly competition and permit these people to experience, first hand, the American way of life.” In his note to the FIFA President, Dr. Joao Havelange, President Ronald Reagan wrote, “With the remarkable increase in both the number of soccer participants in the United States and the Americans’ interest in this worldwide sport, we expect that the 1994 World Cup would be exceptionally well received here.” 

In order to host the 1994 World Cup tournament, there had to be cooperation between FIFA and many different governmental agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. The Government Relations Department of World Cup USA (WCOC) was tasked with coordinating between all the different organizations. Federal task force priorities were spread among 26 federal agencies. These tasks ranged from Secret Service security for world diplomats to National Weather Service weather monitoring to the FBI’s tracking ticket counterfeiters and scalpers. 

During the 1994 World Cup, the U.S. made it out of the group stage only to be eliminated by Brazil, on July 4th no less. The championship game took place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, between Brazil and Italy. After 120 minutes without a single goal, the championship was decided for the first time by a penalty shoot-out. At the start of the fifth round, Italian star Roberto Baggio famously made his stunning miss, giving Brazil the 3-2 win.

The 1994 FIFA World Cup tournament was deemed a success, bringing in a record amount of revenue, the highest number of stadium attendance in the history of the competition, and the love of the beautiful game to a new generation of Americans.  

You can learn more about the impact of sports in the exhibit All American: The Power of Sports, which runs in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery in Washington, DC, from September 16, 2022 through January 7, 2024. And read more about the FIFA World Cup in the post Do you have World Cup fever?

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