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D.C., Baltimore announce joint bid to host 2026 World Cup

FIFA and U.S. Soccer Federation officials privately expressed concern about playing games at FedEx Field, home to the Washington Commanders. (Mark Tenally/AP)

Officials announced Thursday that Washington was joining forces with Baltimore for a joint 2026 World Cup bid to stage games at M&T Bank Stadium in Maryland and ancillary events, such as a giant fan festival, in the District.

There was no mention of FedEx Field in a news release issued by Events DC, the local sports authority, but during an inspection tour of venue candidates last fall, FIFA and U.S. Soccer Federation officials privately expressed concern about playing games at the Washington Commanders’ stadium in Landover.

Commanders team president Jason Wright said the team already told officials it would withdraw FedEx Field from consideration as a possible World Cup site anyway.

“We are committed to supporting the World Cup through other means as it has the great potential to unite our strong soccer community regionally and collaborating with Events DC to attract other major, non-NFL events that can serve our sports-obsessed region,” Wright said in a statement.

FedEx Field, which opened in 1997, has been plagued with problems for years. During NFL games this past season alone, a pipe broke and its contents went into the stands, a sprinkler went off in a suite, and a tunnel railing collapsed. Fans have long grumbled about its location and traffic flow, and players have complained about field conditions. Soccer officials expect high-end amenities at stadiums that host World Cup competitions.

Two weeks ago, as the cities were discussing the merger, Events DC chief executive Greg O’Dell acknowledged the venue’s issues, telling The Washington Post “we recognize the stadium has some particular challenges.”

The Commanders, who are contractually obligated to play at FedEx Field through at least the 2026 NFL season, are seeking to build a new stadium in the region. However, it wouldn’t be ready in time for the World Cup.

FedEx Field was the only option in the metro area. RFK Stadium — which hosted matches in the 1994 World Cup and 2003 Women’s World Cup — is no longer operational and set for demolition in the near future. Audi Field, D.C. United’s 20,000-seat home, falls well short of minimum seating capacity for the World Cup.

FedEx Field was a venue for the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

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Wanting the nation’s capital to have some role in the 2026 tournament, FIFA and the USSF this winter began encouraging the cities to discuss a merger.

Had the D.C. bid included a sufficient stadium, it would have been an almost sure bet to be among the 16 cities in the United States, Mexico and Canada to make the final cut. Capital cities are almost always prime World Cup venues. A successful D.C. bid also would have all but ended Baltimore’s outlook.

FIFA is expected to announce the venues in the next two months. The United States will have 10 or 11 stadiums, Mexico three and Canada two or three to stage an 80-game tournament that will expand to 48 teams from 32 in 2026.

The other U.S. finalists are Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Orlando; Miami; Cincinnati; Nashville; Kansas City, Mo.; Houston; Dallas; Denver; Los Angeles; the San Francisco Bay area; and Seattle.

Mexico has proposed Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Canada has Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.

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“We are really excited about partnering with our friends in Baltimore to bring the best of both cities to the FIFA World Cup 2026 for all soccer fans,” Max Brown, the D.C. bid’s co-chair, said in a statement. “We look forward to having FIFA and its delegates in D.C. for meetings, practices, the biggest FIFA Fan Festival, and are confident that our region will exceed expectations in delivering an innovative, powerful, and fun fan experience.”

City officials estimate hundreds of thousands of fans will watch matches on large screens erected on the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We know the Washington-Baltimore bid is a winning bid,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement. “We’re a sports city, we’re a soccer city, and people from across the nation and around the world will want to be in and near D.C. in the summer of 2026 when we celebrate our nation’s 250th birthday.”

D.C. officials said they did not have any additional comment. Baltimore officials said they did not want to comment.

“Mayor Bowser and I want to ensure we give our cities the best opportunity to win this major event, which will provide massive economic boosts for both urban centers,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) said in a statement.

A USSF spokesman said FIFA has been informed of the merger and “looks forward to further discussions with the bid team and reviewing the proposal in more detail.”

Officials from both cities said they have begun discussing security and regional transportation issues.