No apologies necessary: still the shining city on the hill

Enough already with the "we wuz robbed" whining and complaining in the aftermath of FIFA's decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 Cup to Qatar. Qatar? Not the United States? Robbed! We wuzn't robbed.

We got beat. Indeed, we beat ourselves.

That's why there must -- again, must -- be a systemic and comprehensive re-think before the United States bids again for any event of significance in international sport, and in particular the Olympic Games.

Without such a review, American bid success has to be seen -- at best -- as problematic,  China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Qatar presenting abundant evidence of the will to take the World Cup and the Olympics to new territories.

That doesn't mean the United States can't win.

It does, however, mean that the American approach has to be fully re-calibrated.

"The United States can put forward and should put forward a very compelling argument to FIFA and to the IOC that's based on their needs," meaning FIFA and the IOC, "and not money," Terrence Burns, the president of Atlanta-based Helios Partners, a long-time and super-successful player in the bid game, said in a telephone interview.

"Money is important. A great technical plan is important. But the most important thing in this game -- and the game has changed -- is the vision thing.

"What is the narrative? What is the story? How does that dovetail with making the world a better place and how can we," meaning an American bid, "help you do that?"

Russia's winning 2018 World Cup bid? Helios.

Sochi's winning 2014 Winter Games bid? Helios.

Golf's winning campaign last year to join the Summer Games program? Helios.

Now on the Helios agenda: The 2018 Winter Games bid from Pyeongchang, South Korea, the IOC due to pick the 2018 site next July. Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France, are also in that 2018 race. The Korean bid is widely considered a strong candidate.

More Helios: work on the winning Beijing and Vancouver bids and on events such as the World University Games.

And others, too, which mostly would seem to add to the credibility of Burns and Chris Welton, who is now the Helios chief executive officer, because no one wins all the time:

Moscow's 2012 Summer Games bid, which came in dead last in IOC voting in 2005? Helios. Doha's 2016 Summer Games bid? Helios -- the IOC saying Doha was technically solid but then moving to exclude the Qatari capital, ostensibly on the grounds of the weather.

"I have never seen a bid be beaten by another bid," Burns said. "Every bid I have seen a bid lose -- it has beaten itself."

He said of the complaining, blaming and finger-pointing that seemingly has dominated American reaction to the 2022 loss and, to use another example, last year's first-round exit by Chicago in the 2016 IOC vote, won by Rio de Janeiro:

"It's really kind of funny when you see bids lose and the first thing they do is start blaming 'things beyond their control.' Or anti-Americanism. Or you hear, 'It's the wrong time,' or, 'There are visa issues getting into America,' or, 'In the United States, we have to do it with private funding instead of government funding and so it's harder for us.'"

You want hard? Sochi had zero -- nothing, nada, zilch -- on the ground for the Winter Games. They started there literally from scratch.

"If you don't think that I heard from everyone in the business when I started with Sochi that it was a joke and what were we thinking -- well," he said, "it wasn't."

He also said, referring to the United States, "This country, for every reason that's right, should still be the flagship. The USOC should be the flagship of NOCs in the world," meaning national Olympic committees. "It's not. FIFA and the world should be clamoring to hold their events here. They're not.

"Because we haven't given them a reason to."

The reason Americans once could give -- the reason that used to really, really matter -- is money.

Once, there was a lot more money here than elsewhere. International sports entities were eager to tap into that. That's why the United States could win with relative ease in the 1980s and 1990s.

Reality check: those days are long gone.

FIFA has all the money it needs. So does the IOC.

That's why the essence of the American argument for hosting 2022 -- enhanced sponsorships and television revenues -- was always such a dead-bang loser. It's why reading the transcript of USA 2022 World Cup bid chairman Sunil Gulati's presentation to FIFA feels like you've dropped in on an Economics 101 lecture.

Money still matters. There's no point in the USOC bidding for anything until it resolves a longstanding revenue-related dispute with the IOC.

But, going forward, basing a bid on the notion of making boatloads of money? It doesn't work.

What was missing from the 2022 American soccer bid was the narrative -- the outward-looking reason for the bid. Similarly, Chicago's 2016 Summer Games bid was technically fantastic. But the Chicago bid couldn't hit the emotional highs.

"You don't win bids on facts. You win bids on emotion," Burns said, adding, "You touch people's hearts. You have to do that in a way that addresses their core needs."

A far-reaching re-think ought to start from these two premises:

For one, the United States typically has gone into the bid game in far more of a reactive than pro-active mode. That has to change.

In this instance, reactive means this: Some city or number of cities, typically led by influential business or political figures, catches Olympic fever. In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with that. Passion is very, very good. The challenge is that it doesn't leave the USOC in control of the process.  In a real sense, the USOC is stuck choosing among cities and leaders. And then there's almost inevitably tension between the bid city and the USOC, both wrestling for control.

Wouldn't it be smarter to do it a different way? With the USOC taking a big-picture look and itself assessing when to bid, and whether it would be better to go for the Summer or Winter Games? Then -- identifying the city that gave the United States the best chance? Then -- finding somebody with the right skill set?

Taking charge  of the process is the first part. The second: the right strategy. That means developing a message that's embedded in the bid, and about two things: Why the United States is in. And, more important, why the fact of the United States being in is good for -- in the instance of the Games -- the Olympic movement.

It's regrettably all-too American to be snarky about the idea of sport as a tool for social good. Burns, referring to the IOC and to FIFA, said, "Maybe they're drinking their bath water, too, But they're looking for their movements and sport to make social impact, to move the world forward.

"That's a much-used line in every Olympic speechwriter's repertoire, including mine. But it's true. And for whatever reason we haven't figured that out yet."

Here's a start:

"We don't need to be ashamed about the American story, or apologize to anyone," Burns said.

At the same time, "We have to think about why America is what it is. I think it's still the shining city on the hill. I would tap into that."

And, as well, "I have never heard anybody stand up [at a bid presentation] and say, 'America is changing.' But every day we wake up and it's a different America. That is America. It was made to be a fluid, never-ending river of change."