After a slowdown due to the pandemic, the competition among 17 cities in the United States for the venue of the 2026 World Cup has restarted.
On Friday, two FIFA inspectors visited the 72,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the home of the record-breaking Major League Soccer team and the core of the city’s bid.
Fifa Vice President Victor Montagliani, who is also the head of the North American and Caribbean Football Association, the regional governing body, joked that Atlanta is now “a football city, just like on a global scale. Real football played inside.”
Atlanta relied on its retractable roof stadium, which opened in 2017, and its history of hosting from the Summer Olympics to the Super Bowl, to help it reach what is arguably the largest event in the world.
Montagliani and FIFA’s chief tournament and tournament official Colin Smith have visited Boston and Nashville. Over the next week, they plan to stop in Orlando, Washington DC, Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia and Miami.
In the next two months, FIFA will conduct live visits to the remaining US finalists: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas and Cincinnati.
Together with Mexico and Canada, the United States won the right to host the first World Cup held in three countries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the site visit was postponed, and the final decision of the host city was postponed to early 2022.
There is not much venue suspense in surrounding countries.
Mexico has established three cities-Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara-all expected to host. Canada also submitted three cities, but Montreal recently withdrew because the provincial government refused to accept rising costs. This makes Toronto and Edmonton the only sites.
It is not clear how many US cities will be selected. Before Montreal withdrew, the general consensus was 10, which may create opportunities for the 11th pick.
Montagliani said: “There has never been a rule on how much we will have in each country.” “In the final analysis, we will make the best decision for the World Cup itself, no matter what the number is.”
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of the few candidates in the United States that require turf to replace artificial turf during the World Cup. According to Smith, this will not be a problem.
“There are many (of) technologies now,” he said. “We just need to do it well.”
Atlanta hopes to benefit from the compact footprint surrounding the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Unlike potential cities with suburban stadiums such as Dallas, Washington, Boston, and San Francisco, Mercedes-Benz is only a few blocks from the city center and is part of a complex that also includes the Centennial Olympic Park and the State Farm The arena and the huge Georgia World Conference Center.
“It just creates an atmosphere,” said Darren Iles, the president of Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United team, who was a member of the city’s delegation on Friday. “I think the most memorable World Cup in the past took place in cities with stadiums in the city center.”
Eales lashed out at competitors such as Boston and Dallas, adding: “You are in a remote place. Nothing is happening around these sites.”
The Centennial Olympic Park may host a fan event, and one of the largest convention centers in the world has been selected as the venue of the International Broadcasting Center, serving media from all over the world.
A potential stumbling block: a new Georgia voting law, which opponents condemned for being too strict and discriminating against people of color. What is shocking is that Major League Baseball withdrew this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta after the measure was approved.
Like their counterparts in the International Olympic Committee, FIFA officials never seem to care about the politics of the host city or country.
Ils smiled nervously and dismissed the question. He said: “If FIFA makes a decision based on the overall situation of Atlanta relative to other cities, I very much hope that Atlanta will be selected.”
Since the team joined the MLS in 2017, the Atlanta United team has attracted attention due to its record number of spectators.
The club maintains almost all MLS attendance records, including a season average (53,002) and a large number of individual spectators of more than 70,000. International friendly matches are also very popular in Atlanta.
“It’s kind of like the cherry on the cake,” Ils said. “There is no doubt that this is one of the top cities in North American football.”