Atlanta group meets virtually with FIFA about World Cup bid

The pageantry at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Mexico and Venezuela prepare to play in a soccer match on June 5, 2019.

Combined ShapeCaption
The pageantry at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as Mexico and Venezuela prepare to play in a soccer match on June 5, 2019.

Atlanta’s pursuit of hosting 2026 World Cup soccer matches continued Monday when FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, held an hour-long video conference with the local bid group.

Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso, who is leading the bid process, said the Zoom meeting was a chance to get reacquainted with FIFA in a process that has been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Seventeen U.S. cities, including Atlanta, are vying for 10 spots as hosts. Atlanta hopes to land one of the semifinal berths.

On Monday’s call, which didn’t delve deeply into details, the local bid group stressed Atlanta’s history of hosting major sports events, the city’s infrastructure to support such events and the popularity of MLS team Atlanta United. The local group also suggested the possibility of holding fan festivals across Georgia during the World Cup.

“We did not hurt our chances,” Corso said after the virtual meeting. “In fact, I think we elevated our chances to solidify the spot as a semifinal host city.

“From the feedback at the end of the meeting, some of the comments (FIFA officials) made to us were very positive. I think it left us thinking that we did the absolute best we possibly can, given the format of the meeting.”

Atlanta United President Darren Eales, who also participated in the meeting, said afterward: “We can’t take it for granted, but I feel like we are in a really good place to be one of the host cities.”

The next step is for officials with Zurich-based FIFA to visit the 17 U.S. candidate cities. The timing of those visits is uncertain, depending on COVID-19.

FIFA “reinforced” during Monday’s meeting that it expects to finalize the selection of the host cities “sometime in the second or third quarter of next year,” Corso said.

When FIFA awarded the 2026 men’s World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada two years ago, the organization said 16 cities – 10 in the U.S., three in Mexico and three in Canada – would be chosen to host matches. Atlanta and Dallas were suggested in the original North American bid as potentially the semifinals hosts, but those recommendations aren’t binding on FIFA.

In addition to Atlanta, the U.S. candidates to host matches are Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington.