Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hispanics in Florida push for soccer World Cup

South Florida named as one of 18 finalists

Miami boasts the highest U.S. television ratings for the World Cup every four years. On Tuesday, the soccer-savvy city got one big step closer to hosting the event it so passionately follows.

Fifteen years after being passed over as a World Cup host city, Miami was named by the U.S. World Cup bid committee as one of 18 finalists to hold matches in 2018 or 2022, assuming the United States is awarded one of those World Cups by FIFA, the sport's governing body.

University of Miami president Donna Shalala, a member of the U.S. bid committee, said of Miami's inclusion: ``We are an international soccer city. Our citizens know the best players in the world. The fans around the world love coming here. I am ecstatic.''

Marcelo Claure, a Miami-based Bolivian cellphone magnate who attempted to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami, was involved in the local bid. He said: ``The soccer lovers in this market deserve to see the World Cup live in their city. People here have always been willing to support soccer, as long as it's world-class soccer. That's the eternal MLS challenge with this market. But bring them the best players in the world, and they will go crazy.''


Claure believes the changing demographics make South Florida a better World Cup city now than 15 years ago.

``In 1994, the Hispanic community here was mostly Cuban, and the Cuban community doesn't consider soccer their top sport. But now, this area is comprised of many different nationalities whose main form of entertainment is soccer.''

The U.S. bid is due to FIFA by May 14, and in December, FIFA will name the 2018 and 2022 hosts.

At that point, FIFA likely will ask the host nations to trim the list of venues to about a dozen.

The other cities included in the U.S. bid are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington.

Notably absent are San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, and Orlando, all of which played host to 1994 World Cup matches.

Local soccer dignitaries gathered at Segafredo Brickell in downtown Miami on Tuesday afternoon to watch the announcement on ESPNews.

The room erupted when Miami was named.

“The World Cup is not just a soccer tournament, it's a global party, and are we the right city to throw a global party, or what?'' beamed longtime Miami soccer promoter Tom Mulroy. “We host a Super Bowl every three years. We know how to do this.''

Miami was one of 27 cities bidding to make the final 18, and its strengths included a state-of-the-art venue in Dolphin Stadium, an international airport, hotels, restaurants and beaches.

“We welcome the world every day!'' was the motto of the Miami bid committee, which was led by Mike Sophia, executive director of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission, and Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe'' Diaz.

“Our stadium is ready now, we are a multicultural city, and we know how to host international tourists,'' Sophia said. “Plus, we dispelled the notion that we love soccer but can't pull together as a soccer community.''


Each city had an on-line petition to show grass roots support, and Miami ended up in fourth place among the 27 with 10,872 signatures.

“To show that kind of local activism was shocking,'' said Aaron Davidson, president of Miami FC, a second-division professional team.

It helped Miami that summer is its tourism off-season, meaning space and good rates in area hotels.

One reason Miami was passed for Orlando in 1994 was that the World Cup dates conflicted with Major League Baseball. This time, the Marlins will be in their new home, leaving Dolphin Stadium open for World Cup dates.

The other countries bidding for the World Cups against the United States are Australia, England, Japan, Spain/Portugal and Russia.

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