A FIFA official overseeing venue selection for the 2026 World Cup in North America all but ruled out Chicago and Vancouver reentering the bid procedure after surprise withdrawals two years ago.
Chicago, which hosted the 1994 World Cup opener, withdrew from consideration in 2018 because of what the mayor’s office said was “uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate.” Vancouver officials expressed similar concerns.
Asked about Chicago possibly rejoining the fray, Smith said: “We have 17 fantastic cities. There is a great depth there across the U.S., and we are looking forward to making the selection from those 17 cities.”
Though Vancouver staged the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, FIFA plans to proceed with Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton as hosts in Canada. “That is the intent,” Smith said. “They were the cities that took part in the workshop, and those are the cities we will be visiting during the inspection trips.”
Neither Chicago nor Vancouver has publicly expressed fresh interest in bidding, but given the stature of the cities and their soccer histories, speculation has lingered.
On Tuesday, FIFA will conduct a long-delayed workshop for the 17 U.S. hopefuls, which include Washington and Baltimore. Because of travel restrictions, it will be held via video conference.
Over the next several weeks, international soccer’s governing body will arrange individual virtual meetings with bid leaders in each city. Canada and Mexico held their workshops and meetings with FIFA earlier this year; Mexico’s bid cities are Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.
Inspection tours in all three countries are tentatively planned to begin this year. FIFA had hoped to select the 16 venues next spring, but because the novel coronavirus pandemic pushed back the schedule, Smith said it was too soon to specify a new timetable.
FIFA is expected to select 10 U.S. cities and three apiece in Canada and Mexico, though that could change as the evaluation process transpires. The United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches — including all of them from the quarterfinals onward — in the first World Cup with 48 teams. The last 32-team tournament will take place in November and December 2022 in Qatar.
“Six years seems like a long time, but it’s really not,” Smith said. “We are certainly impatient to get moving on this journey together.”
Dan Flynn, who last year retired as the U.S. Soccer Federation’s chief executive, will oversee the U.S. city selection process on behalf of the USSF and provide recommendations to FIFA, which will have the final say. The USSF, Flynn said, “will have significant influence.” Smith called the USSF “a critical partner in the process.”
The top candidates are New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. (New York or Los Angeles is almost certain of hosting the final.) The other contenders are Washington; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Boston; Miami; Atlanta; Orlando; Cincinnati; Nashville; Kansas City, Mo.; Houston; Denver; the Bay Area; and Seattle.
The Washington area, which unveiled its bid last week, hosted matches in the 1994 World Cup (at RFK Stadium) and the 1999 and 2003 Women’s World Cups (at FedEx Field in Landover and RFK, respectively). The 2026 bid proposes FedEx Field, though plans for a new NFL stadium in the area could change the outlook.
“We would leave it to the market to come back to us as to what their plans are and how that might be factored in regarding ’26,” Flynn said. “For now, we have to go with what is in the bid itself.”
The Redskins are aiming to build a new stadium, though they are legally bound to play at FedEx Field until 2027.
In making its selections, FIFA will take into account myriad factors.
“A host city now goes far beyond simply where a stadium is located,” Smith said. He cited infrastructure needs but also “soft aspects,” such as the impact of the World Cup on a city and on soccer’s development.
“There is no golden thread that runs through a perfect host city/stadium,” he added. “It is an integration of many different factors.”
Though several large metro areas seem certain of being selected, smaller cities, such as Nashville and Cincinnati, are not at a disadvantage, Smith and Flynn said.
“We look at the full picture,” Smith said. “What does a host city want to achieve from hosting this World Cup? What can this World Cup bring to them as much as the city can bring to us?”