Could DC save the 2022 World Cup?

Sports fans around the U.S. are still excited about the recent announcement that the 2028 Olympics are coming to Los Angeles. It’s a long way off, but the chance to lock up a bid so far in advance should ensure that the L.A. Games are some of the best we’ve ever seen. It’ll be a great time for Los Angeles and for the entire country—and in the meantime we’ve still got Tokyo 2020 and now Paris 2024 to look forward to.

Photo courtesy of Intangible Arts

Where the World Cup is concerned, however, the U.S. hasn’t been as lucky. We lost a bid for the 2022 Cup to Qatar, and have since partnered with Canada and Mexico to submit a fresh bid for 2026. That one seems likely to work out, even if the idea of the bulk of the North American continent hosting (rather than just one country) seems a kind of intense. The likeliest series of events at this point is probably that the 2022 Cup will come and go, and the North American bid will succeed for 2026.

But soccer fans in D.C. and around the country might not want to give up on 2022 just yet. It’s a long shot, and to be clear there’s no actual indication that a change is in the works. But there are still plenty of powerful parties that don’t want Qatar to host the event, and D.C. could wind up being the only viable alternative for a host capital.

The Argument Against Qatar

There have long been human rights arguments for removing the World Cup from Qatar. Reports about strenuous working circumstances that in some cases come dangerously close to forced labor have called the integrity of the Cup preparations into question. Additionally, Qatar’s anti-gay policies and restrictive views on women’s rights have many questioning the value and even the safety of hosting the World Cup there. These things have been written about, but haven’t seemed to make much of a difference in the minds of FIFA executives. But a separate issue may have a greater impact. Just this July, it was written that if diplomatic turmoil continues to engulf the region, builders may draw up plans to leave, which would mean Qatar wouldn’t even be able to complete its ambitious preparations for the Cup. This could render the country not just inappropriate for th
e Cup, but unable to host it.

The U.S. As An Alternative

Another article slamming Qatar’s bid just recently reminded us that 2022 World Cup bids came from five countries. Aside from Qatar, these included Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. Of those countries, the U.S. appears to be the most logical savior. Unfortunately, geopolitical tensions relating to North Korea make the idea of beginning preparations for major international events in Japan and/or South Korea somewhat daunting. And Australia, while perfectly capable of hosting an event of this magnitude (the Sydney Olympics were wonderful), would probably have more last-minute preparation to do. In The U.S., for the most part, the stadiums already exist and the infrastructure is prepared. No country can host a World Cup overnight, but the U.S. is closer than anyone else to being able to do so. And rest assured, D.C. would almost certainly be the main hub of activity. The World Cup would utilize cities across the nation (more on that below), but D.C. would host many of the biggest matches, and in all likelihood the final.

The Trump Wrinkle

Some still eyeing a 2022 switch or even looking ahead to the 2026 bid have voiced concerns that President Trump’s attempts to restrict immigration to the U.S. could have a negative effect. The Trump administration has attempted to essentially ban access to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries, which could prohibit some qualifying countries from being able to play in the Cup. Now, it’s unlikely that such a policy ever becomes formal, or that it’s still in place in 2022 or 2026. For that matter, there are even many predicting impeachment for the president sooner rather than later. But if restrictive immigration policies are even in place during the time of bidding – either for an emergency replacement of Qatar in 2022, or for 2026—it won’t help.

The Possible Host Cities

Whether for 2022 or 2026, it’s fun to imagine which cities might host matches. As mentioned, D.C. will be in the thick of the event if and when it does come to the United States. But there would have to be several other cities also involved. Way back in 2010 when the idea of a 2018-2022 bid was materializing, a list of 18 cities was revealed, including large cities like New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami, as well as some of the best soccer towns in the country like Seattle and Kansas City. D.C. was also on the list, with FedEx Field mentioned as one of the likely venues. Trailing only Cowboys Stadium and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in capacity among the relevant venues, it still looks like as logical a place as any for an eventual World Cup final.

Snagging the 2022 World Cup from Qatar remains a long shot. But soccer fans in the area should get used to the idea of hosting at some point in the next decade. It’ll be a fun time for D.C. and the rest of the country.

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