Oakland wants to join U.S. bid for World Cup
on November 11, 2009
Imagine a series of summer afternoons at the Oakland Coliseum a few years in the future. The sun-dappled parking lot has become a Tower of Babel—English, Spanish and a smattering of Scandinavian tongues—but all are mutually intelligible in their passion for one sport: soccer. Tailgaters from around the world sample an international smorgasbord of tapas, schnitzel and plantains.
More than one game unfolds over the course of the week. One day, fans from Mexico City paint their faces red, white and green and chant “Si se puede!” Meanwhile, a family from Lagos in the upper deck unfurls the green and white Nigerian flag.
The next day, a Brazilian midfielder slashes through the defense and fires a shot at the net. But the American goalie—by then an international star, but today perhaps a third-grader at Peralta Elementary in North Oakland—pounces on the shot for a save, to the delight of the hometown fans.
This could be the scene if Oakland becomes part of the U.S. bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Several city employees were in New York this week putting Oakland’s best foot forward at the headquarters of the U.S. World Cup selection committee. Although the series is more than a decade off, it already has united Oakland civic leaders, including Mayor Ron Dellums and City Council Member Larry Reid, as soccer fans might say, for the same GOOOOOAL!
“We definitely support the idea,” said Scott Peterson, director of public policy at the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. “We sent a letter of support to the bid committee in New York and have worked with city staff to make sure they know we’re ready to help activate the chamber to help make the bid as good as possible.”
Oakland is vying against 26 other American cities—including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York—for one of up to 12 spots in the U.S. bid to host soccer’s most prestigious tournament. In December 2010, the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA)—soccer’s world governing organization—will announce the national hosts of both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The United States will have to beat out 11 other countries bidding for the right to host the tournament. As a sign of the game’s growing international appeal, Russia, Indonesia and Qatar have made bids—none have hosted the tournament before.
Bringing the cup to Oakland would mean opening-round games between some of the world’s top teams at the Coliseum, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the city and over a billion more tuning in on television. Such a large sporting event would likely stimulate tourist-related businesses like restaurants and hotels, and the Chamber of Commerce’s Peterson said that studies show a World Cup event can bring hundreds of millions in infrastructure investment dollars to a host city. The tournament would not bring Oakland a new stadium, but would spur the building of training facilities, possibly at local colleges.
“It would be a great morale booster for Oakland and help us focus on building some world-class facilities,” Peterson said. “It’s not going to be on the scale of the Olympics or anything like that, but it would certainly be a draw for the city in a way that’s beyond regional. By then, we’ll have the airport connector and BART will have some new trains. It’s at least 10 years out, so we really see this as a great opportunity to work toward something.”
In addition to development opportunities, a World Cup would provide a huge boost to the next generation of Oakland’s young players. Christopher Seiwald, president of the Jack London Youth Soccer League in Oakland, said it could unite young players from across the city. “As a league, we’re underrepresented in Oakland south of the 580 freeway,” he said. “But there’s a tremendous amount of talent out there playing out in the neighborhoods. Something like this could bring more players together.”
Hosting a World Cup would engage more than just the soccer-obsessed fans who wake up at 4 a.m. to watch European premier teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid on satellite television, Seiwald said. It would create a sports carnival atmosphere and bring people from around the world to Northern California. “It’s a world-class event. It’s something that has an impact even outside of the soccer world,” said Seiwald. “It would have a tremendous impact on everyone around here.”
The Bay Area—and Oakland in particular—has one of the highest U.S. concentrations of soccer fans per capita, according to several local soccer association leaders. Many of the most avid fans are Latinos, who make up a quarter of the city’s population. The Mexican national team drew tens of thousands of fans to the Coliseum for games against Ecuador in 2007 and against Sweden earlier this year.
Seiwald has seen some of that passion firsthand. “A team from Mexico came to practice on one of our fields in Alameda and word got out—it was like Elvis showed up,” he said. “People were lining up around the fence to see these guys warm up.”
2018 and 2022, years the U.S. might host the Cup, sound like science-fiction territory—would the Argentine team face a competing lineup from Mars? But the timeline for hosting a tournament actually requires action now. The U.S. selection committee—which includes soccer stars, celebrities and luminaries such as Mia Hamm, Drew Carey and Henry Kissinger—will make its decisions by May 2010 about which U.S. cities will be part of its bid.
At its November 3 meeting, the Oakland City Council voted to support the city’s effort to be part of the U.S. World Cup bid. City officials are encouraging residents to go online to sign a petition supporting Oakland’s candidacy. More than 2,500 people have already done so—better than San Francisco’s 1,098 signatures, but still well behind Atlanta’s 13,298. U.S. soccer officials say these signs of support for potential host cities will matter.
“The passion cities’ citizens exhibit towards the opportunity to potentially play host to FIFA World Cup matches will be one of the many factors that we will consider throughout our ongoing selection process,” USA Bid Committee Executive Director David Downs said in a press release.
South Africa hosts the World Cup next year, with Brazil scheduled to host the tournament in 2014. The United States last hosted the World Cup in 1994, including an opening-round game between Brazil and the US at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.
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