NEW YORK — FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, announced Thursday that 16 cities across three countries will host matches in the 2026 World Cup, but neither Washington nor Baltimore will be among them.
“This was a very, very difficult choice,” Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, said of the competition involving 22 bids in the United States, Canada and Mexico. “It’s hard to imagine — you can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the U.S. and the capital city not taking a major role as well.”
Since the first World Cup in 1930, only two capital cities (or their immediate areas) have not hosted matches: Bonn, West Germany, in 1974 and Tokyo in 2002. (The latter tournament was staged in Japan and South Korea, and Seoul was a host.) However, West Berlin, the historical German capital, hosted matches, and three cities near Tokyo were used. Ottawa was not under consideration for Canada in 2026.
FIFA officials declined to detail why the Baltimore-Washington bid failed, but according to a person close to the situation, Boston probably edged out Baltimore-Washington for the final slot.
The other U.S. markets selected for the month-long men’s event were Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Seattle. All three Mexican candidates — Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara — were chosen, while Toronto and Vancouver will represent Canada.
“The selection came right down to last night, this morning,” FIFA executive Victor Montagliani said.
Despite the failure of the Baltimore-Washington bid, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he still would like fan festivals and watch parties to take place on the National Mall.
Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said, “Our nation’s capital is very much going to be a huge part of this World Cup, even though they’re not hosting games.” She did not elaborate.
The decision not to stage matches in Baltimore-Washington is a major blow to the D.C. area, one of the richest soccer environments in America. It hosted the 1994 World Cup (at RFK Stadium) and the Women’s World Cups in 1999 (FedEx Field) and 2003 (RFK).
RFK Stadium is scheduled for demolition in the coming years, and with a capacity of 20,000, D.C. United’s Audi Field does not come close to meeting FIFA’s minimum seating of 40,000 for the World Cup.
At a public event in the District attended by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), D.C. officials and soccer fans were disappointed by FIFA’s decision. When Boston and Philadelphia were announced and with Miami and New York seen as locks, the sighs and jeers started — first slowly, then altogether.
“D.C. is the number-one-ranked television market for English Premier League soccer,” said Max Brown, chairman of the board of directors for EventsDC, the local sports authority. “So I don’t know what the hell FIFA was looking at when they made that decision.”
Matthew Doyle, 24, a soccer fan from Woodbridge who attended the event in Washington, said, “I blame [Washington Commanders owner] Dan Snyder.”
Cincinnati, Denver, Edmonton, Nashville and Orlando also did not make the cut. Sixty of the 80 matches in the 48-team tournament will be played at U.S. stadiums, including all games from the quarterfinals and beyond.
Every U.S. and Canadian stadium is a large-scale football venue except Toronto’s BMO Field, an MLS facility that will undergo expansion to meet FIFA’s 40,000-seat minimum.
FIFA has yet to designate the number of games each city will host or the venues for late-stage matches. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., are believed to be the top contenders to stage the final.
This will be the first World Cup shared by three countries and the first time the tournament has been held in North America since 1994, when the United States hosted the entire competition. Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986.
“This part of the world doesn’t realize what will happen here in 2026,” Infantino said. “These three countries will be upside-down and then flipped again [and] back. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they will be invaded by a big wave of joy and of happiness because that’s what football is about.”
The North American bid won hosting rights in 2018, easily defeating Morocco. That victory came eight years after FIFA, in a vote later deemed tainted by U.S. federal investigators, chose tiny Qatar over the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea to host the 2022 World Cup.
Because of intense summer heat in the Middle East, this year’s tournament will be played in November and December.
PJ Morales in Washington contributed to this report.