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FIFA Officials Scout Baltimore, M&T Stadium For 2026 World Cup

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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From left to right: Colin Smith of FIFA, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, FIFA's Victor Montagliani, Lt. Gov Boyd Rutherford and Terry Hasseltine, the Executive Director of Maryland Sports, pose at a Monday news conference.

A delegation of FIFA officials are touring Baltimore, assessing M&T Bank Stadium and the city’s potential to host the 2026 World Cup, soccer’s biggest event.

The delegation arrived Sunday and attended the Ravens home game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they watched the home team eke out a comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs in a 36-35 nailbiter.

“Last night was definitely sort of a magical evening for the Ravens and it was a great experience for us to see the stadium live and in action,” said Victor Montagliani, head of the FIFA delegation inspecting potential 2026 World Cup bid venues, at a news conference Monday morning. “Baltimore has a spirit. We already knew that and it was evident last night in the game as well.”

Colin Smith, FIFA chief tournaments and events officer, said the organization will assess Baltimore’s accommodations; an average of 47,371 fans attended the 2018 World Cup games, according to Statista. The delegation will also weigh the city’s track record of hosting other large events, such as marathons, as well as public transit and the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the potential entry point to Baltimore for teams and fans from across the globe.

Baltimore City officials will spend Monday pitching the delegation in a presentation that spells out those logistics.

Smith said that while officials saw M&T Stadium in full glory Sunday night, they will spend much of Monday looking behind the scenes, especially around the field, which in soccer is referred to as the pitch.

“Area of the pitch for us is sacrosanct,” he said. “We have the best players in the world playing the best football in the world and so they deserve the best pitches in the world and that's really the heartbeat of what we look at when we go to a stadium.”

The Baltimore Orioles hosted three the five games played during the 1983 World Series, where they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies. Although the city has never hosted an event like the Super Bowl or the World Cup, Mayor Bandon Scott and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said the city and state are putting in significant effort to court FIFA. Hosting the World Cup would bring an estimated $480 million to Baltimore, according to the mayor.

“When you talk about an event of this size, the biggest sporting event in the world, you're talking about thousands of jobs,” the Democrat said. “This will be game changing for our city because it creates the opportunity for the world to see us as we are: as a city that's gritty, that comes back, that's tough, that fights tooth and nail to come out on the other side as we have done since the creation of The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Rutherford, a Republican, said he expects that M&T Bank Stadium’s playing field will need upgrades to meet World Cup standards. “We’ll make sure that it gets done,” he said, adding that there may be some seating changes as well.

FIFA officials have already toured Washington, D.C., where they assessed FedEx Field. The city has already hosted three World Cups. They will also visit Boston, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, Philadelphia and Miami.

Smith said the FIFA delegation will tour three more cities this month and another eight to nine cities in both October and November. The organization will finalize evaluations of each competing city by the end of this year and announce their pick by early next year.