The Daily Free Press, by Taylor Brokesh
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is currently being battled out in Qatar, drawing global audiences of captive fans from oceans away. But in four short years, the World Cup will be landing right on Boston’s doorstep. The city will serve as one of 16 host cities for the FIFA World Cup 2026, jointly hosted by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
FIFA announced Boston as a host city in June, along with Atlanta, Dallas, Guadalajara, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, Monterrey, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. The matches in Boston will be held at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, and with its capacity of 70,000 people, it may be able to host a semifinal match.
“Boston has a long and rich football history, an extensive fan base, and a diverse and enthusiastic community of volunteers ready to welcome fans around the world,” according to the United Bid Book, the official submission from the three host countries in order to be considered by FIFA for the 2026 World Cup.
Most details concerning Boston’s role in the tournament have not been finalized, wrote a spokesperson for Gillette Stadium. Conversations will begin in 2023 to determine specifics such as ticket sales and dates. According to a press release from the stadium in June, each city is slated to host four to six matches.
“The City of Boston is excited to once again welcome the worldwide soccer community and visitors as the FIFA World Cup returns to Massachusetts,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in the press release, referring to Boston’s role as a host city in the FIFA World Cup 1994 and in the FIFA Women’s World Cups 1999 and 2003.
“We’re proud of our long legacy of championship teams and fans, and we’re ready to showcase our city to soccer fans around the world as they come to celebrate the beautiful game,” she wrote.
The City wrote in an email that they have been collaborating with Boston Soccer 2026, the committee that helped develop Boston’s successful host city bid, and the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau throughout the planning phase.
The FIFA World Cup 2026 will also be the largest tournament yet — FIFA is increasing the number of 32 teams to 48, and the number of matches played from 64 to 80. This will give teams who may not have ever made it to the world stage a chance to play against some of the most dominant countries in the world.
Dan Lebowitz, the director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, spoke about how an event like the World Cup has the potential to transform society.
“People can have different religions, and different political views, and different racial identities, and just an entirely different view of the world, but they all find some kind of commonality in embracing the beauty of, in this case, soccer,” Lebowitz said. “That common language of soccer can create the very unity that’s often missing in our world community.”
Lebowitz said this year may have been a “turning point” for the U.S. Men’s National Team in Qatar — despite the team going out in the round of 16 against the Netherlands.
However, he said, not nearly as much national attention had been paid to the U.S. Women’s National Team when they competed, despite winning back-to-back tournaments in 2015 and 2019, with the latter’s final being won against the Netherlands in a 2-0 match.
Lebowitz said soccer has not yet been proliferated in the United States as much as other countries because of access.
“I would argue that part of that reason is that we have kids in every city who might’ve been the sons or daughters of great players from Africa, from Jamaica… and haven’t had a lot of access to soccer,” Lebowitz said. “And the more access you see, the more you see the lineage of cross-generational soccer, making an impact on our level of play and our level of play within the context of the World Cup.”
Caroline Foscato, the founder and president of the Soccer Unity Project, which aims to improve access to soccer for youth and adults across the city of Boston, said over her lifetime, soccer has become more and more of an American pastime.
“It is a thriving, growing, expanding sport literally every year,” Foscato said. “We now have young professionals and parents who grew up playing soccer, and that was not the case, necessarily, for a large part of the population when I was a kid.”
Foscato explained the Soccer Unity Project’s impact on the Boston community.
“We really see soccer as this hub for our community, to bring together people, have them learn about each other, learn to have compassion for each other, build trust between each other and as a part of that being a central spot of connection and also creating opportunity,” she said.
Lebowitz explained how teams such as the USMNT can inspire young Bostonians and allow them to see themselves one day becoming World Cup players, too. He specifically highlighted the USMNT captain, 23-year-old Tyler Adams, as a worthy role model for kids.
“The energy level, the leadership, the maturity that he brings to that field is something just amazing,” he said. “A lot of kids will start to see themselves in Tyler, perhaps, or will see themselves in Christian Pulisic … and I think that’s always how the game proliferates.”
Lebowitz explained how the FIFA World Cup 2026 will give Boston a chance to demonstrate its merits for viewers across the world.
“We’re a world-class hospital city, we’re a world-class university city,” he said. “And this is a chance for the city to shine on an international scale, beyond the things we normally are known for.”