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Waiting Game: FIFA World Cup Site Decision Another Casualty of COVID-19

28 Apr, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The FIFA World Cup in 2026 is further out than most sports commissions are looking at the moment, but they may have to wait to find out whether their cities will be hosting any of the action. Thanks (or no thanks) to COVID-19, the decision-making process is being delayed, delivering one more blow to cities who had been hoping for some good news.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, who also serves as vice-chair of North America’s 2026 men’s World Cup organizing committee, said that the pandemic’s outbreak has played havoc with the original timeline for picking the tournament’s host venues. A mid-March meeting in Dallas of representatives from the 17 competing U.S. cities was cancelled, and has not yet been rescheduled. Similar meetings in Mexico and Canada were also cancelled.

FIFA officials were scheduled to perform site inspections on potential venues for practices and competitions in March and April. Those also have been cancelled. Some pundits believe the dates for a projected second round of tours, in October and November, might be used instead for the original site inspections if the virus is sufficiently under control. If that is the case, the announcement of 10 host cities across the U.S., and an additional three each in Canada and Mexico, which was expected in early 2021 is unlikely to happen.

“The deadline, I think, will likely be pushed back, because I think the cities are going to probably ask for it,” Montagliani said. “A lot of cities have other things on their hands that they have to deal with right now. So I think for now, until we get out of this, in all likelihood it won’t be towards the end of the year when that file is kind of picked up again.”

Using this timeline suggested by Montagliani, it appears a decision would likely be made in the summer or fall of 2021, which is five years out from the World Cup. While it still is ample time for cities to plan, it could create hotel space problems for cities with large sports events (or conferences) that have established long-term contracts for venues and hotels. And with the World Cup generally taking place in June and July, which is already peak season for summer travel, there will likely be even more demand. All of that, however, is a remote concern at the moment, when cities are scrambling simply to recoup losses from cancelled events this spring and summer.

A total of 23 cities across the United States and Mexico are bidding to host games in the 2026 World Cup. Here are the cities in alphabetical order and their stadiums:

  • Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity 71,000)
  • Baltimore: M&T Bank Stadium (71,008)
  • Boston/Foxborough, Mass.: Gillette Stadium (65,892)
  • Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium (65,515)
  • Dallas/Arlington, Texas: AT&T Stadium (105,000)
  • Denver: Broncos Stadium at Mile High (76,125)
  • Houston: NRG Stadium (71,500)
  • Kansas City, Mo.: Arrowhead Stadium (76,416)
  • Los Angeles/Inglewood/Pasadena, California: New NFL stadium (80,000, with potential to expand); Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (around 78,500 after renovation); or the Rose Bowl (87,527)
  • Miami: Hard Rock Stadium (65,767)
  • Nashville: Nissan Stadium (69,143)
  • New York/East Rutherford, New Jersey: MetLife Stadium (82,500)
  • Orlando: Camping World Stadium (65,000)
  • Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field (69,328)
  • San Francisco/San Jose/Santa Clara: Levi’s Stadium (75,000)
  • Seattle: CenturyLink Field (69,000)
  • Washington, D.C. (venue is actually in Landover, Maryland): FedEx Field (82,000)

Canada

  • Edmonton, Alberta: Commonwealth Stadium (56,335)
  • Montreal: Olympic Stadium (61,004)
  • Toronto: BMO Field (36,000; expansion to 40,000 has been planned)

Mexico

  • Guadalajara: Estadio Chivas (45,364)
  • Mexico City: Estadio Azteca (capacity 87,000)
  • Monterrey: Estadio BBVA Bancomer (52,237)

At the moment, the 2026 World Cup is not the international governing body’s most pressing concern as it feels its way through the process of having to manipulate the schedule for qualifiers for the 2022 event. According to the Washington Post, FIFA is working on efforts to organize “bilateral discussions with confederations concerning 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in order to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments.”

And Inside The Games notes that Montagliani has said there was a "need to be realistic in terms of when football will come back" due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

That means FIFA officially knows as much about it as the rest of us.

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