NEW YORK (AP) — The 16 cities of the first World Cup spread across three nations were revealed, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino made a bold statement summing up the goal of the 2026 tournament, to be played largely in the United States.
“By 2026, soccer — or futbol — will be the No. 1 sport in this part of the world,” he proclaimed.
Roughly four years before soccer’s showcase comes to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, there already were winners and losers Thursday: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Kansas City, Missouri, were among the cities picked after missing out on hosting the 1994 tournament.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, missed the cut.
Eleven U.S. stadiums were taken, all from the NFL. Arlington, Texas; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, were holdover areas from the 1994 tournament that boosted soccer’s American prominence.
Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and ’86 finals, will become the first stadium in three World Cups, selected along with Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron and Monterrey’s Estadio BBVA.
Toronto’s BMO Field and Vancouver, British Columbia’s BC Place were picked for Canada’s first time hosting, while Edmonton, Alberta’s Commonwealth Stadium was dropped.
Following the withdrawl of outmoded FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Baltimore’s omission means this will be a rare World Cup with no matches in the vicinity of a host’s capital.
“You can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the U.S., the capital city not taking a major role,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer.
Infantino promised a fan fest on Washington’s National Mall, and locations across the three nations are in play for training sites.
“The story is always who doesn’t get chosen,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone said.
Infantino’s goal of reaching the top of U.S. sports appears to be quite a reach. The NFL averaged 17.1 million viewers for television and digital during its 2021 season, while the 2018 World Cup averaged 5.04 million on U.S. English- and Spanish-language TV.
“You are leading the world in many areas,” Infantino said about North America, “the objective must be that you will be leading the world, as well, in the world’s No. 1 sport.”
“I know it was giggles and laughs,” North and Central American and Caribbean Confederation President Victor Montagliani said. “He wasn’t joking.”
Infantino defended FIFA’s financial demands on bidding 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.
“This is something which is definitely a fair compromise, taking into the account the interest of sport and the interests of the host countries,” he said.
The 1994 tournament set records with a 3.59 million total attendance and average of 68,991. The capacities of the U.S. stadiums for 2026 are all 60,000 and higher.