ATLANTA (AP) – After being slowed down by the pandemic, the race between 17 U.S. cities to land a coveted location to host the 2026 World Cup is back.
Two FIFA inspectors were in Atlanta on Friday to take a look at the 72,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of a record-breaking Major League Soccer team and the centerpiece of the city’s bid.
FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani, who also heads CONCACAF’s regional governing body, joked that Atlanta is now “a football city, like in the real football that is played in the world” .
Atlanta is counting on its retractable-roof stadium, which opened in 2017, and the history of hosting everything from the Summer Olympics to the Super Bowl to help it land what is arguably the greatest show ever. world of all.
Montagliani and Colin Smith, responsible for FIFA tournaments and events, have already visited Boston and Nashville. Over the next week, they are planning stops in Orlando, Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Miami.
Over the next two months, FIFA will offer its site visits to the other US finalists: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas and Cincinnati.
The United States won hosting rights with Mexico and Canada in what will be the first World Cup staged in three countries. Site visits have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the final decision on host cities back to early 2022.
There isn’t a lot of suspense in neighboring countries.
Mexico has set up three cities – Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara – which are all expected to host. Canada had also submitted three cities, but Montreal dropped out recently after the provincial government refused to cover the rising costs. This left Toronto and Edmonton as the sites of this country.
It is not known how many US cities will be selected. The general consensus was 10 before Montreal pulled out, which could create an opening for an 11th pick.
“There is never a stipulation on the exact number that we are going to have in each country,” Montagliani said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to make the best decision for the World Cup itself, regardless of that number.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of many US contenders who will demand that artificial turf be replaced by turf for the duration of the World Cup. It won’t be a problem, according to Smith.
âThere is a lot of technology out there these days,â he said. “We just have to get it right.”
Atlanta hopes to benefit from the compact footprint around the Mercedes-Benz stadium. Unlike potential cities such as Dallas, Washington, Boston, and San Francisco, which have suburban stadiums, Mercedes-Benz is only a few blocks from downtown and is part of a complex that also includes Centennial Olympic Park, State Farm Arena and the massive Georgia World. Congress center.
“It just creates an atmosphere,” said Darren Eales, president of MLS club Atlanta United, who was part of the city’s delegation on Friday. “I think the most memorable World Cups of the past were in the cities where you have that stadium downtown.”
Taking on competitors like Boston and Dallas, Eales added, âYou’re in the middle of nowhere. Nothing is happening around these sites.
A fan party would likely be held in the Centennial Olympic Park, while the convention center – one of the largest in the world – is touted as the venue for an international broadcast hub that would serve media around the world.
A potential stumbling block: a new voting law in Georgia that opponents decried as too restrictive and discriminatory against people of color. In a startling move, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta after the measure was approved.
Like their counterparts on the International Olympic Committee, FIFA officials never seemed too preoccupied with the politics of a host city or country.
Eales shrugged his shoulders with a nervous laugh, saying, âIf FIFA makes this decision taking into account all of what Atlanta brings compared to other cities, I am optimistic that Atlanta will be selected.
Atlanta United has drawn a lot of attention to its record crowds since the team joined MLS in 2017.
The club hold nearly all of the MLS attendance records, including the season average (53,002) as well as the large individual crowds of over 70,000. International friendlies have gone well in Atlanta as well.
âIt’s kind of the icing on the cake,â Eales said. âIt is without a doubt one of the best cities for soccer in North America. “
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