FINA visits Atlanta as part of 2026 World Cup evaluation

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2017, file photo, MetLife Stadium is viewed during the first half of an NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, N.J. FIFA inspectors begin evaluating Mexicos suitability to stage World Cup matches in 2026 on Monday, April 9, 2018, after a study commissioned for the North American bid highlighted concerns about violent attacks on female fans, human rights activists and reporters in the country. Mexico City is the first stop on a five-day trip by the FIFA task force, which also will visit Atlanta, Toronto and the New York metropolitan area, where the bid committee proposed the 2026 final be held at the East Rutherford stadium. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

ATLANTA (AP) A FIFA evaluation committee wrapped up its visit to Atlanta on Wednesday, checking out possible sites for the 2026 World Cup.

The committee toured Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one of the proposed venues for the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico. The $1.6 billion, retractable-roof facility opened last year and hosted the largest single-game crowd in Major League Soccer history when 71,874 fans turned out for Atlanta United’s match against Toronto FC.

The visit also included stops at the Georgia World Congress Center, which could presumably serve as the media headquarters, as well as Atlanta United’s suburban training facility.

Atlanta is one 23 potential sites proposed for the World Cup – 17 in the United States, plus three each in Canada and Mexico. Up to 16 stadiums will be used in 2026, when the tournament will expand from 32 to 48 teams, and each city must also provide a plethora of training facilities.

The evaluation committee has already visited Mexico City, and plans stops in New York/New Jersey and Toronto.

FIFA will select the winning bid in June. Morocco is the only other contender.

Carlos Bocanegra, technical director of Atlanta United and a member of the bid committee’s board of directors, pointed out that Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted college football’s national championship game in January and will be site of the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four over the next two years.

Atlanta United, which recently began its second season in MLS, is already a huge success story. In addition to the single-game record, the team set a total attendance mark by averaging 48,200 per game in its debut season.

The Georgia World Congress Center has 1.4-million square feet of exhibition space, making it the fourth-largest convention venue in the U.S. and a logical hub of media operations in 2026. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, it hosted the main broadcast center as well as temporary venues for seven sports.

”Atlanta can host a world-class event,” Bocanegra said. ”We’re really proud of this city, and we were able to show a bit of the fan culture here – the excitement in the city surrounding the soccer team, and just how much that would grow and exponentially be greater if we were able to host a World Cup here.”

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