Miami wants to be included in 2026 World Cup bid

MIAMI (AP) If the World Cup returns to the U.S., Miami wants to be involved.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Tuesday that the county will submit a bid by September to host games in the 2026 World Cup, a move that comes with David Beckham possibly on the cusp of getting approval to bring an expansion Major League Soccer franchise to Miami and following a week where more than 110,000 fans attended two high-profile exhibition matches in South Florida.

The county will make its pitch to the United Bid Committee, the group formed by the national delegations of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to pursue bringing a men’s World Cup to North America for the first time since 1994.

”We are hopeful,” Gimenez said. ”We anticipate that we would make the first cut. I think Miami is in a very strong position to make the first cut and actually to make the final cut of either eight or 10 American cities to host World Cup games in 2026.”

Part of the UBC’s 10-person board is former University of Miami president Donna Shalala. The group has been contacting more than 40 cities in recent weeks, inviting them to apply.

”Soccer’s never had more momentum here in Miami, or around the United States,” Gimenez said. ”This is the sport of the future, it’s the world’s sport and Americans have started to really appreciate it and watch it and be enthusiastic about it.”

It also has long had a following in Miami, a multicultural city where international soccer has enormous popularity.

Beckham could get his long-awaited approval to put an MLS expansion franchise in Miami on Wednesday, when league owners meet in Chicago – and will have his plan on their agenda. And last week, the Paris St. Germain-Juventus and Real Madrid-Barcelona matches drew huge crowds to Hard Rock Stadium. Even a practice session for the Spanish teams combined to draw another 37,000 paying customers.

The crowd and the citywide hubbub for Real Madrid-Barcelona made it easy to envision what the scene could be like for a World Cup match in Miami.

”We’re a big-event town,” said Bill Talbert, the president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. ”And I know we have interest, strong interest, in bringing the World Cup to Miami.”

The UBC is proposing that 60 matches in that 2026 tournament be played in the U.S., with Mexico and Canada each playing host to 10 early matches. FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body, is expected to decide the 2026 site by May 2020.

The bid involving the U.S. is expected to be the overwhelming favorite. Chile has expressed interest in bidding for 2026 as well, in a bid where it wants to be joined by some fellow South American countries.

Next year’s World Cup is being staged in Russia, and Qatar will host it in 2022.