Once again, Baltimore is polishing its image, this time in the hopes of landing a piece of the 2026 World Cup of soccer. With FIFA, the sport’s governing body, awarding the competition to the combined U.S., Canada and Mexico bid, Baltimore has a shot at hosting one of the matches or an advance gathering of team representatives. But so do a lot of other North American cities, which, like Baltimore, will be under scrutiny for the next couple of years as event organizers make their picks.
Even in the midst of the current World Cup fever — the quadrennial competition is underway in Moscow — there will be those who think Baltimore shouldn’t even bother bidding to host. The vaunted economic impact of such sporting events never quite materializes once you consider how much it costs to stage it, the naysayers will say. Why not focus on the needs of those who live here, they might ask, rather than those who pass through without so much as a backward glance.
To which we offer a disparaging honk of a vuvuzela.
For one thing, on a local level, a major event offers opportunities — and not just for service jobs cleaning the stadiums or otherwise catering to the visitors. Why can’t a creative person — at City Hall, in private business, at one of the area colleges — start seeding some start-ups that might compete for contracts to help put on this show? The skills needed to help stage a big event, from logistics to hospitality to security, surely would prove useful beyond a single match or meeting.
And on a larger level, working to take part in the most watched sports event in the world may just be the corrective we need right now. President Donald Trump may engage in a name-calling and tariff war with Canada, and his administration may try to stop immigration at the border with Mexico by, appallingly, separating children from their parents. But in their united and successful bid for the World Cup, the three countries are going their own way, acting as one.
What role Baltimore will play, if any, remains to be seen. It is in the running to host a match, and is believed to be the frontrunner for the World Cup Team Workshop, in which the competing nations send delegations for orientation before the tournament starts. Still, the competition to land an event will prove tough, with Baltimore needing to put its venues, facilities, amenities and abilities up against other cities.
If this sounds familiar, it is.
Less than a year ago, Baltimore was among an even bigger field that spent a couple of frantic months packaging itself to Amazon for its second headquarters. While the city failed to make the finalists’ list — and the wooing of a major corporation to set down roots on the banks of the Patapsco represents a much different and infinitely higher-stakes process — the effort remains instructive.
What made Baltimore a swipe-left for Amazon? We have to speculate a bit because the postmortem the online giant gave the city after its decision was light on details — at least as city officials conveyed it to the public. But along with crime, the usual top-of-the-list downside, what likely played a role was transit.
Or rather, the lack of a decent, inter-connected public transportation system. That this holds the city back, whether as a place to live or host a major event, cannot be clearer than in the assessment of potential World Cup-host cities: Baltimore received its lowest score, 3 out of 5, for transportation, matching up poorly against competing cities whose subways boast more than the Metro’s one, lonely line. There’s no chance of building a better underground in eight years, but solving transit above ground has to be a priority of those promoting the city’s bid. And it wouldn’t hurt for those of us who live here as well.
Baltimore may not be a soccer city — we have the indoor league-playing Blast, which decamped to Towson in any event — but occasional matches played at M&T Bank Stadium suggest a ready audience. A 2009 “friendly” that brought England's Chelsea and Italy's AC Milan sold out and put the city on U.S. soccer’s map as a finalist to hold future World Cup matches.
Soccer is of course “o jogo bonito,” the beautiful game, to much of the world. In the Baltimore area, it is the sport of choice of both suburban kids whose parents ferry them around the club circuit and a growing immigrant population for whom it is a link to their countries of origin. Bringing a bit of their sport’s biggest event to town seems like a worthy gooooaaaaalll.