‘Message received:’ FIFA, U.S. Soccer officials impressed with Cincinnati on World Cup site visit

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 13: Team USA jerseys are seen as the World Cup tournament being held in Russia is set to kickoff on June 13, 2018 in Miami, Florida. As the world prepares for the kickoff of the World Cup soccer tournament tomorrow, FIFA announced today that North America will host the tournament in 2026. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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MIAMI, FL - JUNE 13: Team USA jerseys are seen as the World Cup tournament being held in Russia is set to kickoff on June 13, 2018 in Miami, Florida. As the world prepares for the kickoff of the World Cup soccer tournament tomorrow, FIFA announced today that North America will host the tournament in 2026. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI -- A delegation of 22 leaders from international soccer’s governing body and U.S. Soccer visited Cincinnati on Friday to vet the city as a possible host site for the 2026 World Cup, and representatives from the group during a midday press conference publicly praised the local organizing committee for its hospitality and enthusiasm.

But a simple remark from FIFA Chief Tournaments and Events Officer Colin Smith summed up what soccer fans in the Tri-State area wanted to hear.

“Message received,” Smith said during the press conference outside Paul Brown Stadium before FIFA officials took their tour of the facility that would host games.

Cincinnati is one of 17 cities in the U.S. bidding to host soccer’s biggest event, as the United States is jointly hosting the 2026 World Cup along with Canada and Mexico. A total of 10 sites will be selected from the U.S., and FIFA has said a decision could be made by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

Other U.S. cities in the running are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While Cincinnati appears to be a darkhorse in that competition to win a bid over several larger cities, local organizing committee members presented a pleasant picture of local and state officials from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, business leaders and community members coming together to create a welcoming environment to would-be visitors from all over the world.

“I don’t believe any other place you stop you’ll have three states that’ll want to pull together the way that we’re going to pull together,” Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted said.

Procter and Gamble CEO David Taylor and Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen both expressed the business community’s commitment to making the World Cup successful in Cincinnati, including what McMullen called an “ambitious goal” to bring FIFA the first zero-waste event.

“We have the commitment and the support of our companies large and small, we have the commitments of local and state officials to make this happen,” McMullen said. “Together we believe Cincinnati is the perfect host city for the FIFA World Cup. As David noted earlier, we have great facilities for games, training, along with terrific cultural amenities, and entertainment options for all fans. And that’s not all. We are also committed to sustainability and social impact.”

The delegation was given tours of all the auxiliary facilities that could be used for training, including FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium and Mercy Health Training Center, as well as athletic complexes at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Northern Kentucky University and Mount St. Joseph University.

Lunch at the Queen City Club included 70 guests such as local CEOs, arts directors, transportation leaders and college presidents, and the delegation was able to see from the top floor of the club what the footprint of the area between Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium has to offer for visitors.

The local organizing committee created a Fan Fest event Friday at The Banks to show off the lively atmosphere sports fans in Cincinnati regularly experience before and after Bengals and Reds games and how that space could be utilized for the World Cup visitors as well.

The last big stop of the tour was seeing Paul Brown Stadium, which included a video rendition of what the soccer layout and grass field would look like as some changes will be made for the World Cup if awarded the bid. The local organizing committee forecasts a soccer capacity of 60,294.

“When we come on these visits, we look at requirements, obviously,” Smith said. “We look at the World Cup is the biggest event in the world, and it’s broken down into experiences for all the different constituent groups from media, broadcasters, obviously, teams, fans, sponsors, etc. And that’s what we look at. But ultimately, the World Cup is delivered by people. And that’s what’s been great to see here today is how everyone has pulled together across the tri-states and wants to host the World Cup here. … We look for how all these groups come together, how do we deliver a World Cup within a city, and the presentation we received today was really excellent.”

CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani joked that Cincinnati event delivered “great football weather” with the rainy conditions Friday, but on a more serious note offered thanks for the hospitality provided on the visit.

“What’s been striking to me is the authenticity of your community,” Montagliani said. “... We have our work to do, we have our job to do, we have to do our due diligence, we have to make some very difficult decisions, but at the end of the day, I want to thank you for the authenticity that you’ve shown to my FIFA family and my FIFA staff.”

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