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Baltimore makes pitch to play host to one of world's biggest sports events

THE BALTIMORE SUN (TNS)
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When the men’s World Cup comes to the United States in 2026, Baltimore is hoping to be a part of the celebration for one of the world's biggest sports events.

The Baltimore-Maryland 2026 World Cup Host Destination Delegation said in a news release that it met virtually with representatives from FIFA and the United States Soccer Federation on Monday to present its plans to secure events at M&T Bank Stadium as part of the quadrennial soccer competition, which will be held in cities in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Led by Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Maryland Sports executive director Terry Hasseltine, the presentation focused on the city’s accessibility and hospitality options and their proximity to M&T Bank Stadium. FIFA officials initially planned to visit the city in person before the coronavirus pandemic forced cities to make virtual pitches.

When the potential host cities were announced in 2018, Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium fared well in FIFA’s assessment of potential game venues. FIFA member nations scored the 70,000-seat stadium 4.2 out of 5 — the third-highest score given to any of the proposed venues in North America.

“Our main focal point is our venue, M&T Bank Stadium, and how it serves as the ‘Heartbeat’ of Baltimore City. It’s one of a small number of facilities in the running which is located within the limits of its ‘Host City,‘ ” Hasseltine said in the release.

“The upgrades to the complex over the last few years — and those in the works for the next decade — ensure that our stadium will remain one of the most beloved venues in all of sports. But more than that, people love M&T Bank Stadium because it’s easy to get to.”

Joining Rutherford and Hasseltine were Roy Sommerhof, senior vice president of stadium operations for the Ravens; Al Hutchinson, president and CEO at Visit Baltimore; and Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Baltimore is one of 17 cities in the United States hoping to be awarded match play for the 2026 World Cup. In the region, Washington, Philadelphia and New York/New Jersey are also under consideration. FIFA is expected to choose 10 cities in the U.S. and three apiece in Canada and Mexico, respectively. That number, however, could be adjusted by FIFA at any time in the selection process. It’s not known when the host cities will be announced.

During the presentation, Hutchinson mentioned Baltimore’s diverse 250 neighborhoods, ongoing and upcoming development projects, and transportation work at both Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Penn Station. In 2018, Baltimore received its lowest score in the transportation infrastructure category: a 3 out of 5.

After a short video presentation, FIFA and USSF officials submitted questions to the delegation to be answered at a later date. There was also discussion of a future in-person site visit either later this year or early next year, depending on travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19.

“For people across the world, the World Cup is their Super Bowl, and right now, Baltimore, Maryland, has a chance to host an event of that magnitude,” Hasseltine said. “And we’re going to do whatever we can to make that a reality for this City and this State.”