Washington pitches to FIFA to host the 2026 world cup: ‘Washington is where you want to be’

Washington has staged games in three previous world cups

Steven Goff
Monday 20 September 2021 15:34
<p>FIFA has said that it plans to announce the sites no later than next summer</p>

FIFA has said that it plans to announce the sites no later than next summer

It’s hard to imagine Washington not making the cut as a host city when the 2026 World Cup is held in North America. The DC area, after all, has already staged games in three World Cups (one men’s, two women’s), has hosted Olympic soccer twice and has provided the stage for countless other international soccer events over three decades.

But there is a process involved, and as FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, nears the selection of approximately 16 venues across the United States, Mexico and Canada, the District is aiming to ensure all details are in place.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” said Greg O’Dell, president and chief executive of Events DC, the city’s convention and sports authority.

For that reason, the DC 2026 bid campaign was on high alert Sunday for FIFA’s inspection tour, a visit delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. On the fifth day of their US excursion, more than 20 delegates toured various spots, met with city leaders and probed FedEx Field, the NFL stadium in Landover that would host several matches in 2026.

As they’ve done on previous stops, the heads of the delegation were complimentary and revealed little about their favorites. But they did acknowledge Washington’s status as a capital city, prime destination and well-rehearsed host for large-scale events.

“That certainly [leaves] cities such as DC in very good stead,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer.

Washington is among 17 US cities in contention for probably 10 or 11 slots. Mexico is expected to receive three venues, Canada two or three. The three countries joined forces and, in 2018, beat Morocco for hosting rights. The 2022 tournament will be in Qatar.

Because three countries are aligned for 2026, FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani said: “You can almost erase the boundaries in terms of how we are looking at [stadium selection]. ... When we make the final decision, although there was a framework, we are not limited in any scope of numbers. We are going to make the best decisions for the World Cup.”

FIFA has been saying it plans to announce the sites no later than next summer, but Mr Montagliani, a Canadian who oversees Concacaf, the governing body for soccer in this region, said Sunday that January or February is possible.

The New York and Los Angeles areas as well as Boston, Washington, Atlanta and at least one venue in both Florida and Texas are widely regarded as US front-runners. The other candidates are Philadelphia, Baltimore, Orlando, Miami, Nashville, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, the Bay Area and Seattle.

Mexico has proposed Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Montreal’s withdrawal over financial commitments left Canada with Toronto and Edmonton, but Vancouver could reenter the race after pulling out of contention in 2018.

Much will go into the selection process, including history. Washington’s soccer past leaves it well-positioned. RFK Stadium, which is slated for demolition, hosted the 1994 World Cup and the 2003 Women’s World Cup; FedEx Field was a site for the 1999 Women’s World Cup. RFK (1996) and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis (1984) have hosted Olympic soccer.

DC officials emphasised the melding of the World Cup with the country’s 250th birthday in July 2026. They have proposed the National Mall as the site of a FIFA Fan Fest - an enormous watch party for all World Cup matches that features giant screens and kiosks.

“We think it’s the perfect marriage to bring the world’s greatest sporting event to the nation’s capital on the Fourth of July,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, said. “We know you are visiting other great American cities. We like them, too. Orlando is fine. Baltimore is, you know, good - fantastic cities, but not for 2026 in July. Washington is where you want to be.”

FedEx Field is probably the bid’s weak point. With a history of traffic problems and field issues, it is not considered a premier venue. The Washington Football Team, which owns the 24-year-old venue, has been exploring the possibility of building a new stadium this decade.

Even if such plans were announced soon, Mr O’Dell said it would take a “miraculous undertaking” for it to be ready for the World Cup. “We just need to deal with certainty with what we have,” he added.

The football team, Mr O’Dell said, has been a “fantastic partner” and willing to make necessary upgrades, such as removing a few rows of seats to accommodate a soccer field. Most other stadium candidates would have to do the same.

Quality stadiums are “absolutely fundamental for us,” Mr Smith said. “The World Cup is watched by billions around the world because it’s the best football in the world played by the best players in the world. What we need to do is provide them the best playing surfaces and the best facilities in the world. Previous experience is obviously extremely valid and useful, but we approach this from a holistic view.”

The Washington Post

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