Washington, Baltimore, in talks about joint World Cup bid

With FIFA preparing to announce 2026 World Cup venues next month, Washington and Baltimore are in discussions about combining their respective bids and staging matches exclusively at M&T Bank Stadium.

Terry Hasseltine, who is heading Baltimore’s efforts, told the Maryland Stadium Authority’s board of directors Tuesday that he is “currently working with the District of Columbia on a partial merger.”

In an interview Wednesday, Greg O’Dell, who is leading the Washington campaign, said he and Hasseltine spoke last week and “we are definitely open to different options” after FIFA gave FedEx Field in Landover low marks last year.

If the joint bid is selected, games would be played in downtown Baltimore and Washington would only host ancillary events, such as a massive fan festival on the National Mall, and possibly team training centers.

The US Soccer Federation, which is working closely with FIFA on venue selection, encouraged the sides to work together, Hasseltine and O’Dell said. The USSF and FIFA did not comment Wednesday.

The sport’s global governing body is tentatively planning in mid-May to announce 16 venues in the United States, Mexico and Canada – the first World Cup jointly hosted by three countries. At least 10 stadiums will be in the United States, selected from a list of 17 finalists.

Acknowledgment of a combined bid comes after The Washington Post reported in January that DC area’s hopes of staging a portion of the men’s soccer tournament were in jeopardy because of FIFA’s issues with FedEx Field.

Concerns about FedEx Field complicated Washington’s 2026 World Cup bid

O’Dell – the outgoing president and chief executive of Events DC, the city’s convention and sports authority – said Wednesday, “We recognize the stadium has some particular challenges.”

However, he added, “feedback from FIFA and US Soccer is very clear they want [Washington] to be part of the experience. “

Historically, the capital of a World Cup host country is a primary venue. However, FIFA officials expressed concern about FedEx Field during their inspection tour in September. The NFL venue – which the Washington Commanders opened in 1997 and plan to leave after the 2027 season – has been plagued with problems for years.

During NFL games this past season alone, a pipe broke and its contents went into the stands, a sprinkler went off in a suite and a tunnel railing collapsed. Fans have long grumbled about its location and traffic flow, and players have complained about field conditions.

The Commanders are seeking to build a new stadium in the metro area, but it wouldn’t be ready in time for the World Cup.

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A better stadium situation would have all but ensured Washington as a host city and, because of proximity, probably ended Baltimore’s chances.

While it did not like FedEx Field, FIFA did give high marks to M&T Bank Stadium, home to the NFL’s Ravens, which is located about 35 miles from downtown Washington. Since opening in 1998, it has staged some international soccer friendlies and two US men’s national team matches as part of the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Missing out on the World Cup would be a major blow to DC’s sports image after the city hosted the 1994 World Cup at RFK Stadium and the 1999 and 2003 Women’s World Cups at FedEx Field and RFK Stadium, respectively. From youth soccer to the pros and international game, Washington is one of US soccer’s most vibrant markets.

RFK Stadium, which opened in 1961, has been decommissioned and is set for demolition in the coming years. With 20,000 seats, Audi Field, DC United’s home since 2018, is half the minimum size for hosting World Cup games. Most other MLS stadiums have been ruled out for seating capacity reasons.

The other US candidates are large-scale stadiums in greater New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Nashville, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Denver, Los Angeles, San Jose and Seattle.

MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, is the front-runner to host the championship match, among other games.

Mexico has proposed staging matches in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Canada’s options are Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, which has reentered the race after withdrawing in 2018 for financial reasons.

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