Oakland World Cup update: no deadline looms, selection process details

on December 3, 2009

Despite recent consternation in the blogosphere and rumor mill, no cutoff looms yet for Oakland’s bid to be a host city for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, the worldwide soccer championship, according to a USA Bid Committee spokesperson. A smattering of internet mentions and announcements had tabbed this Friday, December 4, as the deadline for Oakland to collect 50,000 online signatures supporting its attempt to hold international matches at the Coliseum a decade from now.

Not exactly, says the USA Bid Committee’s director of communications, Jurgen Mainka.

“We encouraged them to try to reach 50,000 people by December 4, but it’s not a deadline of any sort,” Mainka said. “When we launched our online campaign, we tried to allow the bidding cities to utilize the tools to gain support for their cities.”

On the USA Bid Committee website, eager fans can petition for one of the 27 cities, Oakland included, vying to host matches should the United States be awarded the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Oakland currently has just over 3,000 votes, while Seattle has the most support, with nearly 19,000 petitioners. [Vote for Oakland here]

While December 4 is not a cutoff date for cities to reach any sort of support threshold, Mainka said, the date does hold some significance for the twelve countries hoping eventually to welcome hordes of international soccer fans. On Friday, contending nations will make an initial general presentation in Capetown, South Africa, to international soccer organization FIFA, which puts on the World Cup, and a small group of worldwide media. But countries’ final pitches aren’t due until May 14.

In order for Oakland and other American cities to have any shot at hosting matches in 2018 or 2022, Mainka said, the USA Bid Committee will first have to impress FIFA in May with a 1,500-page “bid book” detailing its blueprint for hosting a tremendous event nationally. “We are essentially delivering a World Cup in a book,” Mainka said.

Australia, England, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia are also contending to host in either 2018 or 2022, while joint bids for the same goal have been launched by Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as Spain and Portugal. Qatar and South Korea are individually in the running for 2022. The World Cup is held every four years, and is scheduled to take place in South Africa next summer and in Brazil in 2014.

Before handing in its bid book, Mainka said, the American committee will trim down its list of 27 hopeful cities to 18 by the end of this year or early 2010. So that should be the first occasion for breath-holding by Oakland’s fútbol fanatics, who can breathe easy for the time being.

“From a production standpoint, for efficiency, we want to pare that list down early so we can focus more closely on those 18 cities and stadiums that will be in our bid book,” Mainka said.

While loads of votes for Oakland could certainly help the local cause, Mainka said, regional fan support is not the only or even the main deciding factor. Other host-city considerations include facilities, transportation infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and safety.

“We want to show FIFA that we are not only capable of hosting an unbelievably technically sound bid, but that we’ll also have five million people buying tickets and passionate fans filling stadiums,” Mainka said of the American attempt.

FIFA is slated to announce the 2018 and 2022 host countries in December 2010. Should the United States be selected for either year, Mainka said, FIFA officials would work closely with American representatives to identify which of the 18 bid book cities would actually host matches. Traditionally, World Cup matches are held at twelve sites throughout the host country, though that is not always the case; when the 1994 World Cup was held in the United States, matches were only played at nine sites, and during next summer’s event in South Africa matches will likely be held at just ten sites. If Oakland does make it into the bid book and the United States is picked for either of the two events, Mainka said, match-hosting cities be won’t be chosen until four or five years before the event. That means, even if everything does break in Oakland’s favor next January and December, locals likely won’t know for certain that the Coliseum will someday host future World Cup matches until sometime between 2013 and 2018.

Being named as a host city would be an undeniable boon for Oakland or any other city. A study commissioned by the USA Bid Committee estimated that holding matches would generate some $400-600 million and create between 5,000 and 8,000 temporary jobs per host city. In a recent letter to the local business community, mayor Ron Dellums gushed that “Oakland will attract tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world and project a lasting favorable image to a vast global audience.”

With that in mind, city representatives continue their effort to reach out to fans and drum up local support as the USA Bid Committee prepares to slim the field of prospective host cities, said Michael Hunt, an aide to vice mayor and city councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente who has been active in Oakland’s push. While Oakland may not have as many online petitioners on board as cities like Seattle, Hunt and others remain optimistic about their town’s chances.

“Soccer is really an international language and an international sport,” Hunt said. “Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, so Oakland is uniquely positioned to stage this event like nobody else, and also to benefit like nobody else. So yeah, people are excited.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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