After FIFA Officials See Baltimore At Its Best, Can City Secure 2026 World Cup Matches?

By Holden Wilen | Baltimore Business Journal

The Baltimore Ravens’ thrilling comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs Sept. 19 could not have come at a better time for Charm City.

FIFA officials responsible for selecting the host sites of the 2026 World Cup had just arrived in Baltimore earlier that evening and attended the “Sunday Night Football” showdown at M&T Bank Stadium.

After being recognized during the third quarter and welcomed with a round of applause from the sellout crowd, the delegation got to see 70,417 fans lose their minds when quarterback Lamar Jackson sealed a Ravens win with a 2-yard run on fourth-and-1 with a little more than a minute left in the game.

For the team of Maryland officials trying to convince FIFA to select Baltimore as a World Cup host site, it offered an opportunity for them to showcase what the atmosphere in the stadium could be like if the world’s biggest sporting event comes to Baltimore.

“They got to see the fan base at its best,” said Terry Hasseltine, who is helping to coordinate the World Cup site selection effort as president of the Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland.

The excitement of the evening was not lost on the FIFA officials.

“What better way to start the tour than with the match last night, especially with the result going the way it did?” Colin Smith, chief tournaments and events officer for soccer’s governing body, said the morning after the game.

FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani, who also leads regional governing body CONCACAF, joked that he and Smith should take credit for the win. More seriously, he said he enjoyed seeing fans back in the stadium after they were not allowed in last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baltimore was the fifth stop on a nine-city tour that has already included visits to Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Other cities after Baltimore included New York, Philadelphia and Miami.

Overall, Baltimore is among 17 American cities, and 23 candidate cities in total, that are vying to host a World Cup game. World Cup organizers have said they plan to choose 10 U.S. cities to host matches for the event, which will also feature play in Mexico and Canada. FIFA is planning to select the host cities by early 2022.

The FIFA delegation spent Sept. 20 going all around Baltimore to potential training sites at local college campuses, including UMBC, Towson University, Loyola University, Morgan State University and Goucher College. The visit also included checking out possible sites for Fan Fest celebrations, including the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry and South Point in Port Covington.

Later on in the day, the delegation revisited M&T Bank Stadium to get a closer look “behind the scenes” at the 23-year-old facility.

Every city on the trip displayed passion and excitement, Montagliani said. He said cities should not worry about setting themselves apart, but instead embrace their identity.

“I think you’ve just got to be who you are,” Montagliani said. “It’s just like our sport of football. You have an identity of who your team is and I think you have to play that way. If you don’t play that way, then you end up losing. So I think for any candidate, and Baltimore is no different, you are who you are and you have to present yourself.

“At the end of the day you just have to be who you are and put your best foot forward and let the process follow through.”

Photo Credit: Matt Ryb & Eszter Suto

Issue 271: October/November 2021

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