TAMPA — Businesspeople, government leaders and soccer fans gathered at chilly Raymond James Stadium, warmed by World Cup scarves, caps and the hope that the world's biggest sporting event could come to Tampa.
Thursday was decision day in Zurich, Switzerland. The World Cup governing body, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), would announce host countries for the 2018 and 2022 games.
The United States was in the running for the latter. If selected, Tampa was a step away from getting some of the 64 matches as one of 18 U.S. cities vying for 12 spots.
The JumboTron was tuned to a live broadcast of the announcement. Under the stadium's pirate ship, Farrukh Quraishi told the crowd of about 70 people what the World Cup could do for Tampa Bay.
"Only through hosting events of this stature do we become world class ourselves," he said. "It sends an electronic postcard to every household in the world that has a TV set."
Hosting such an event would help Quraishi realize his dream of making soccer explode in the area.
He's tried to do that since 1975. Quraishi was an initial member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a now defunct professional soccer team that predated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He made Tampa home after he retired in 1981 and watched pro soccer come and go. The Tampa Bay Rowdies disappeared in the early 1990s, followed by the Mutiny of Major League Soccer, which dissolved in 2001. FC Tampa Bay is the most recent franchise to give soccer a try.
Last year, he was named vice chairman of the Tampa Bay World Cup bid committee to help Tampa try again after an unsuccessful effort to lure games in 1994. This time, committee members felt confident. Tampa had hosted four Super Bowls and the NCAA women's basketball Final Four. The Republican National Convention was on tap in 2012.
The optimism was shared by many Thursday.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who said the games could bring a half-billion dollars in economic impact to Tampa Bay, fidgeted with a World Cup hat in his hands.
Bryheem Hancock, 30, assistant coach at the University of South Florida, leaned against a stadium railing as the host country for the 2022 World Cup was announced on the giant screen:
Higginbotham turned and left. Quraishi jammed his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket as if to prop up his slumped shoulders.
"I don't think we could have done anything differently," he said. "It won't be the last time we will try. The game is growing, the sport is growing."
But he wondered whether he would be around to bring the next available World Cup to Tampa. He's 59. He would be 75 in 2026.
"You look at the people who worked on this," he said, "some of us will be in our advanced years."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.