he Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider
Arnold set to boost Houston's bid to host 2026 World Cup
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John Arnold fell in love with soccer when he five, playing on his neighborhood fields in Dallas.
He fell in love with the World Cup watching it on Univision in 1990 and listening to Andres Cantor's now-famous 10-plus seconds, octave-sliding GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL call.
But what really hooked him was going to watch Nigeria beat Bulgaria 3-0 in Dallas during the 1994 World Cup. It was the last time the Cup was held in the United States and the first – but hardly the last – time Arnold would feel the excitement of the World's game.
"Even by soccer standards not a marquee matchup but I remember being in the stadium and feeling the electricity; the electricity of the city,'' Arnold said. "It's a sport and a contest that brings together not only neighborhoods within the city. It brings together the globe.''
He wanted to feel that again, so he went to the 1998 World Cup in France. And he kept going - to every World Cup since then.
A quarter of a century later, the Houston billionaire philanthropist has accepted the role of chairman of the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee and he'll join Bid Committee President Chris Canetti in guiding the city's efforts to become one of the 10 host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
"2022 will be in Qatar,'' Arnold said. "And in 2026 it will come full circle for me with us hosting the World Cup, the World Cup coming to Texas, the World Cup coming to my city – this time Houston.''
Sound confident? He is. The former energy trader who founded of one of the nation's top energy investment companies, retired at the age of 38 to redefine philanthropy through the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is listed 11th on Forbes' list of Top 50 givers. Arnold is strategic in his gifting, focusing not on the usual arts, but rather on areas of national public policy, including criminal justice reform, health care costs, K-12 education, public finance, and public health. Texas Monthly just named the Arnolds to their Top 31 Most Powerful Texans.
So, when he says Houston has everything it takes to add another big event to the area's burgeoning sports resume', believe him.
"Having John Arnold head our bid committee is a terrific step forward in our efforts to bring the World Cup to our community,'' said Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman. "We know our region has what it takes to successfully host World Cup matches, but we will take nothing for granted.
"It is our job to go out and tell our story to get the local support we'll need, put together a world class bid, and show the world what the Greater Houston-Harris County area has to offer."
When the Vanderbilt grad moved to Houston in 1995, there were no major events. "That was a dark decade for Houston sporting infrastructure,'' Arnold said. "We had two professional venues – the Astrodome and the Summit and they were both at the end of their useful life. That decade, Houston did not host one major national sporting event.''
He credits the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority for the turnaround.
"Since 2000, the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority has built four world-class venues (NRG Park, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium) and has been instrumental in bringing major events to the city,'' Arnold said.
Canetti, who left the job as President of the Houston Dynamo to take his current role with the committee, couldn't think of a better person to chair the committee than Arnold.
"It is an honor and privilege to add John Arnold to our team,'' Canetti said. "Securing Houston as a World Cup site is an important initiative, and to have one of the most influential leaders of our community on board for the process is a tremendous development.''
Both Arnold and Canetti know the bid process will be competitive. Houston is one of 17 cities vying for one of those 10 spots. Canada and Mexico have already designated three cities each for their portion of the World Cup.
"The same reason NFL chose to bring back the Super Bowl so quickly, the same reason the NCAA brought the Final Four back so quickly is why I'm confident in the success of this bid,'' Arnold said. "Houston has exceeded expectations every time it has hosted a major sporting event.''
He pointed to the downtown footprint with fan zones, hotels and easy transportation as positives as well as NRG. "We have a world class facility that is guaranteed to be 72 degrees at kick-off in the summer,'' he said smiling.
Arnold played soccer until a few years ago when, he said, "my knees told me to call it quits." Now, in addition to traveling the globe to watch the World Cup, he can help influence the next chapter in American soccer through the bid committee.
It's come a long way since 1990 when it was really, as he put it, "very much a niche sport in the U.S.''
Four years later, he was sitting at that World Cup match in Dallas.
"FIFA was prescient enough to believe if they introduced soccer to a brooder swath of America, that America would fall for the sport,'' he said.
They were right. And America did. So, did Houston.
"Houston is a city with global presence, Houston is the most diverse big city in the country,'' Arnold said. "That's what soccer is – diverse and global.''
The push starts now. Canetti has been in his role for just over a week; Arnold in his for a day. And the first big international match of the year in Houston is just around the corner – the U.S. Men play Argentina March 26 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Arnold, Canetti and Houston's bid are just getting started.