Leadoff: Atlanta has vested interest in 2026 World Cup vote

Will Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Atlanta United, host a World Cup semifinal in 2026?
Will Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Atlanta United, host a World Cup semifinal in 2026?

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta's sports-business community will be paying close attention to the outcome of  Wednesday's vote by FIFA, soccer's international governing body, on where to play the 2026 World Cup.

There are two bids on the ballot: a joint United States/Mexico/Canada bid and a competing bid from Morocco. The vote by FIFA’s member nations will be held in Moscow on the eve of the start of this year’s World Cup.

Interest in the vote will be high among officials with the Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Atlanta United because Atlanta figures to play a prominent role in the 2026 event if the U.S./Canada/Mexico bid prevails.

The joint bid proposes that the two semifinals would be played in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, citing “geographic location, travel distances and stadium capacity.”

That proposal comes with no guarantee, even if the U.S./Canada/Mexico bid wins Wednesday’s vote. The bid names 23 cities in the three nations as candidates to host World Cup matches eight years from now and says that if the bid is successful the number would be whittled down to 16 “official host cities” by June 2021.

That would leave plenty of time for negotiation and competition, as the bid makes clear: “The (joint) bid offers FIFA 23 qualified stadiums – more than the required number -- and all are ready to compete to offer the best possible experience for players and officials, fans, partners, media, and other stakeholders, giving FIFA maximum flexibility and leverage. The (joint) bid will work with FIFA to select the final 16 stadiums for the competition.”

The bid also recommends either Atlanta or Dallas as host of the international broadcast center during the 2026 event.

A FIFA committee visited Atlanta in April, touring Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Atlanta United's training facility.

“The message (to FIFA) is simple,” Atlanta Sports Council president Dan Corso said during that visit. “We are a city that is built to host the biggest sporting events in the world, and the World Cup is that.

“We have the venues – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center – surrounded by thousands of hotel rooms … in a compact district.”

Corso and others stressed the city’s history of hosting huge sports events, including the Olympics, Super Bowls and Final Fours.

“The World Cup is the one that we haven’t had, so we would love to add that to the roster,” Corso said.

Atlanta’s message to FIFA also emphasized the popularity of the city’s MLS team.

"We tried to give them a sense of how soccer has taken off here in the city of Atlanta and what that could mean for this region, America, Canada and Mexico, if we can get the World Cup in 2026," Atlanta United president Darren Eales said during the April visit.  

For the 2026 World Cup, the number of participating teams will increase from 32 to 48 and the number of matches from 64 to 80. If the North American bid prevails over Morocco, 10 matches would be played in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 in the U.S. The bid proposes MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., as the site of the 2026 final.

But first things first: Wednesday’s vote in Moscow.

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