Tampa has goal of hosting World Cup
TAMPA - There were majestic sights (the backdrop of South Africa) and unforgettable sounds (vuvuzela noise-makers) during the monthlong FIFA World Cup soccer competition. And the celebration will continue in Spain, which defeated the Netherlands for the championship on Sunday. For some, the sport will now go into hibernation. For others, in the bigger picture, things are just heating up. Tampa is among 18 cities participating in the United States' bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022. "That might seem like a long time away, but the opportunity is there for our nation and our region to seize the moment," said Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises and chairman of Tampa Bay's World Cup Bid Committee. "When you think about the world being a stronger global community, then you consider the potential of being able to brand ourselves and promote ourselves to the world, the stakes are very big."Sykes said the economic impact of each World Cup match is $100 million - and Raymond James Stadium would stand to host at least four matches, if the U.S. bid is successful. FIFA will inspect several U.S. sites this fall and a decision will be announced on Dec. 2. Brazil already has been selected as the 2014 host. The United States has formidable competition. Other nations with bids are Australia, England, Japan, Qatar, Russia and South Korea, plus joint bids from Belgium/the Netherlands and Portugal/Spain. England, by most accounts, is a solid favorite for 2018. In 2022, it could emerge as a race between Australia and the United States. FIFA guidelines allow a maximum of 18 cities in each nation's bid. The United States eliminated nine cities from its original list, including four that were utilized in the 1994 World Cup (Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and San Francisco). Farrukh Quraishi, former player for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and vice-chairman of Tampa Bay's bid committee, said Raymond James Stadium's soccer capabilities will make the region a major player in the U.S. bid. When the United States last hosted a World Cup in 1994, Tampa was eliminated as a host because the old Tampa Stadium didn't meet international soccer standards. Quraishi was a consultant for construction firm HOK when Raymond James Stadium was being planned, making certain that the new facility would pass muster for any future World Cup consideration. "It's hard to describe the atmosphere if you haven't actually been to a World Cup match," Quraishi said. "It's like a Mardi Gras atmosphere inside the stadium - with a fantastic game as the centerpiece. It would be unlike anything anybody has experienced here. "I'd venture to say we're the best venue in the country in terms of sightlines and field dimensions for international soccer. With the amenities we have here, the reputation as a tourist destination, I'm very optimistic how Tampa will fit into the American bid." If the United States wins the bid, it then becomes a mini-competition among the U.S. cities. The 18 cities must be reduced to either 12 or 14. "We're all pulling for the USA," Quraishi said. "When it's successful, then you are pulling for your city. But I truly believe Tampa has so much to offer. I think we're one of the most solid cities involved in our bid." Sykes also cited Tampa's track record of hosting big events. "We've had four Super Bowls and that's the biggest sporting event in our country," Sykes said. "The fact that we have been awarded the Republican National Convention (in 2012) is more evidence that people think of us as a region that's fully capable of staging events of a large magnitude." The United States, one of seven nations to qualify for every World Cup since 1990, reached the event's round of 16 and put the sport on the nation's center stage by winning a thrilling 1-0 match against Algeria. "This is a critical time in the development of our sport," said Patrick Zambito, director of coaching for the Wesley Chapel Soccer Club, a recreation league. "I've never seen it get the public exposure it is receiving right now. "I think the World Cup should return to the U.S., and Tampa would be one of the top places in the country to hold it. I really think FIFA wants to bring it back here. I'm into soccer all the time, so I have an idea of what it would mean. For the general population, they would catch on quickly. It would be the biggest thing ever around here."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353.