NEW YORK (AP) — The 16 cities in the inaugural World Cup across three nations have been revealed, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino has made a bold statement summarizing the goal of the 2026 tournament, which will be played in largely in the United States.
“By 2026, football – or futbol – will be the No. 1 sport in this part of the world,” he proclaimed.
About four years before the football showcase arrived in the United States, Mexico and Canada, there were already winners and losers on Thursday: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Kansas City, Missouri, featured among the cities chosen after failing to host the 1994 tournament.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Tennessee and Orlando, Florida missed the cut.
Eleven US stadiums were taken, all from the NFL. Arlington, TX; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, were residual areas of the 1994 tournament that boosted American football’s prominence.
Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and 1986 finals, will become the first stadium for three World Cups, selected along with Estadio Akron in Guadalajara and Estadio BBVA in Monterrey.
BMO Field in Toronto and BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia were chosen for the first time in Canada, while Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta was dropped.
Following the removal of the outdated FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Baltimore’s omission means it will be a rare World Cup without games near the host capital.
“You can’t imagine a World Cup being held in the United States, with the capital not playing a major role,” said Colin Smith, FIFA competitions and events director.
Infantino has promised a fan fest at the National Mall in Washington, and locations in all three countries are in play for practice sites.
“History is always the one that isn’t chosen,” said US Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone.
Infantino’s goal of reaching the pinnacle of American sports appears to be quite ambitious. The NFL averaged 17.1 million TV and digital viewers during its 2021 season, while the 2018 World Cup averaged 5.04 million US viewers in English and Spanish.
“You lead the world in many areas,” Infantino said of North America, “the goal has to be that you also lead the world in the world’s No. 1 sport.”
“I know it was laughs and giggles,” said Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani. “He wasn’t kidding.”
Infantino defended FIFA’s financial demands on candidate cities and states, which included sales tax exemptions. He said World Cup revenue supports FIFA’s 211 members and 75% could not sustain operations without the money.
“It’s something that is definitely a fair compromise, taking into account the interests of the sport and the interests of the host countries,” he said.
The 1994 tournament set records with a total attendance of 3.59 million and an average of 68,991. US stadium capacities for 2026 are all 60,000 and above.
“I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what’s going to happen here in 2026,” Infantino said. “These three countries will be upside down. The world will invade Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The bid plan selected in 2018 called for 60 games in the United States for the inaugural 48 Nations Cup, including all from the quarter-finals, and 10 each in Mexico and Canada.
Specific venues for each round will be announced later, and Infantino said global television times will be a factor for the final, making Eastern and Central time zones more likely. FIFA has gradually moved back the kick-off time for the final from 3:30 p.m. EDT to 10 a.m. EDT for this year’s tournament, which is 10 p.m. in Beijing.
The United States selections did not include any of the nine stadiums used in 1994. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Camping World Stadium in Orlando were the only ones remaining in contention, and they were among the sites abandoned during negotiations with the stadiums. and cities that continued until just before the announcement.
New stadiums were selected from five areas used in 1994: AT&T Stadium in Texas instead of the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood for the Rose Bowl, and Levi’s Stadium for Stanford Stadium.
Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, replaced the demolished venues that were adjacent Giants Stadium and Foxboro Stadium.
Three US sites have retractable roofs and Atlanta has a fixed roof. All US stadiums except Miami and Kansas City opened in 2002 or later.
Venues have a wider range of pricey seats than in 1994 – the bid book listed a total of 3,757 luxury suites and 76,317 club seats, even before the opening of SoFi, which hosted this year’s Super Bowl. year.
Eight of the 11 US stadiums have artificial turf and have promised to install temporary turf. Dietmar Exler, chief operating officer of AMB Sports & Entertainment, whose NFL Falcons and Major League Soccer team play at Mercedes-Benz, said grow lights will be used.
“We will study very carefully with FIFA how we can manage and ensure that we have the best natural grass available,” he said. “That’s one of the priority areas we need to focus on.”
Some venues, including SoFi, cannot currently accommodate a 68 x 105 meter (75 x 115 yard) pitch and would require renovations to remove seating near the touchlines. FIFA made similar demands before 1994, but backed down and allowed narrower surfaces.
“We have to eliminate some of the pinch points,” Smith said. “It has no material aspect to the ability.”
The Detroit area, where the former Pontiac Silverdome hosted games, was cut in 2018 and Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium was the capital area’s competitor after FedEx quit in April. RFK Stadium in Washington was used in 1994.
Chicago, which hosted the 1994 opener at Solider Field, declined to bid, citing demands from FIFA.
Unlike the site’s 1992 announcement at a press conference, the 2026 announcement was made during a broadcast from Fox’s studio in Manhattan.
“He’s grown so much in my lifetime,” said American star Christian Pulisic, “and I hope he can even take the next step.”
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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