FIFA prepares to name the host cities for the 2026 World Cup

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The countdown to the 2026 World Cup began in earnest on Thursday as soccer fans across Canada, Mexico and the United States learn if their cities have decided to host the 48-team tournament.

Four years after FIFA chose to host three North American nations, world soccer’s governing body will announce the host cities after a long and shrouded process.

As the competition for the 22 host cities continues this week, according to FIFA, many expect the United States to see 10 of the shortlisted candidates with Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto in competition in the North.

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In Mexico, where football is more of a sport than a religion, three candidate cities – Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey – are all sure to work.

Of course, anything can happen before Thursday’s media scene in New York City.

“Some cities probably realized right from the start that they were taller than others…five or six cities, almost anyone in the world would say, ‘OK, they’re obviously part of the package’,” former NFL president Alan Rothenberg, president of Current Playfly Premier Partnerships, Reuters.

“So the scramble in many ways is for the other slots.”

Los Angeles, with its attractive new $5.5 billion SoFi stadium, is widely an obvious candidate, as is the New York World Center, whose joint bid with New Jersey is based on the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium.

Other contenders include the former 1994 World Cup hosts Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, Orlando and Washington, which combined their bid with Baltimore this year.

“There is a lot of pent-up excitement because we then start four years of racing for (the matches),” said Rothenberg, who served as CEO for the 1994 World Cup.

‘legacy’

A potential financial windfall is at stake for cities that bid: A 2018 US Soccer study said the tournament could generate more than $5 billion in economic activity for North America.

The pride in participating in the history of North American football is also at stake.

The 1994 World Cup was preceded by an explosion of popularity in the sport across the United States with the Major League Soccer (MLS) kicking off its first season two years later.

“We’ve all seen great progress in the growth of football over the past 20 years or more,” said Chris Canetti, chair of the Houston World Cup bid committee, who previously served 19 seasons in the NBA.

“The platform that it (the hosting) will provide to really take the sport to much higher levels is a fantastic and very exciting platform as well.”

Canetti cited Houston’s size and proximity to Central and South America among its advantages in the world championship, but added that he did not expect any advance notice from FIFA.

“It really wasn’t a lot of direct feedback to help you feel confident saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re definitely in,'” he said. “I think our chances are very strong.”

Dan Hilferty, head of the Philadelphia Bid, said there are plans to build the fields not only to host World Cup training facilities but also to “create a legacy” in the city, if they are chosen.

“I see this as the straw that broke the camel’s back in the situation of football among other major sports,” he told Reuters. “There will be no turning back.”

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(Reporting by Amy Tenery in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)

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