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The rejection of the World Cup to Washington, FedEx Field and Daniel Snyder

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As the busload of officials from last fall’s World Cup headed to FedEx Field from a downtown DC hotel, someone in the entourage, a US Soccer official confided in me, commented on how unpleasantly surprised they were that the trip to a possible 2026 men’s World Cup site was taking so long.

That was just the first of his revelations.

Finally arriving at the stadium in suburban Maryland where the local NFL team plays, officials were shown repairs to a pipe that burst during a game a few weeks earlier, showering a fan base of the football team. from Washington in a dozen or so seats filled with liquid that team executives swore wasn’t sewage.

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And while the World Cup honchos were long gone at the end of the season, visiting other potential sites around the country, they were no doubt aware of an end-of-season event on FedEx that I’d say was a metaphor for the stadium. and the franchise that calls it home. Several Philadelphia fans trying to congratulate their winning quarterback, Jalen Hurts, as he walked off the field saw the railing they were leaning over collapse, sending them down about six feet to the ground. Stadium officials said the railing was not intended to be load-bearing.

So when Colin Smith, a World Cup official, said Thursday, after it was announced that Washington did not make the cut to be an official part of the 2026 tournament, that it was hard “…to imagine a World Cup World in the US and the capital city doesn’t play a big role…” I was just being polite, we didn’t deserve the World Cup in 2026, but it’s not our fault.

Blame Daniel Snyder. Because World Cup officials decided that Snyder Stadium was a bit far from a dump.

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Some of us have gotten used to our NFL franchise making us an embarrassment in the region, with the Ravens on Baltimore Avenue playing winning football in a stadium built just a year after FedEx at about half the cost. and with a reputation for being both approachable and personable.

Some of us are getting used to our team making us a national embarrassment, like when Snyder on Wednesday refused to appear before a congressional committee investigating allegations that his team’s workplace is, among other things, hostile. to women.

But Thursday raised us to a new level of ignominy: worldwide. Thanks to Snyder.

To be sure, the District’s vision for hosting games had been abandoned weeks ago, when the cities merged their offerings in a futile effort to overcome Washington Stadium’s failings. Now, the 2026 men’s World Cup will kick off for one of the few times in nearly 100-year history without the capital city of the host country as the venue for a single match. Bonn, West Germany, was left out in 1974. Tokyo did not join Seoul when Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002. And while Canada and Mexico co-host 2026 with the United States as the center, Mexico City will host games while Ottawa was never considered.

Even in 1994, when the United States first hosted a World Cup, the soon-to-be-demolished RFK Stadium hosted matches despite being past its prime.

“It’s been an incredibly competitive process,” Smith said. “All the cities have been amazing. This was a very, very difficult choice.”

In fact, long before Smith’s colleagues toured FedEx, there was criticism of FedEx’s playing surface as the worst in the NFL after a string of high-profile injuries. The franchise almost admitted it when he embarked on a major on-field rebuilding project just before last season. It was apparently too late for World Cup officials to trust athletes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to their professional teams.

But this rejection was not just a matter of time. It was about the mismanagement of the stadium, comparable only to the mismanagement of an NFL franchise that was once the foundation.

This may have been Snyder’s coup de grace in killing this golden goose of an NFL franchise. The team I grew up with at RFK Section 312 is long gone. The victory faded. The coveted season ticket is no more. Less than 10 years after FedEx opened in 1997, it became the largest stadium in the NFL with a capacity of 91,000 fans. He was first or second in attendance in the NFL for a few years. By 2021, it drew the second fewest ticket buyers in the league.

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That’s not just because it’s a long ride for so many fans, as World Cup officials have complained. It’s also a long drive for less and less reason. The team I grew up with won as many playoff games in the ’80s and ’90s as all but one team, the San Francisco 49ers. It was a must see both in person and on TV.

The team since then, the one from the 2000s, has won fewer playoff games than every team in the league except the Detroit Lions. No wonder attendance has dropped so precipitously.

Now, what was once the crown jewel of professional sports franchises in the area may also be a bauble. Nobody covets it.

Earlier this month, amid the myriad controversies surrounding the team, Virginia Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) introduced legislation that would have helped fund a new stadium for the Snyder’s football team.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan reiterated that his state would spend $400 million to build out the area around FedEx if Snyder wants to sign a new lease after the current one expires in 2027, but would not fund a new stadium.

And while the old RFK is due for demolition, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and the city council are divided on how to use the land it sits on. For now, the city doesn’t even own it; the federal government does.

But there is no need to rush to build new ones or renovate old ones. The biggest sporting event in the world has said it will not come, a most ignominious achievement for Daniel Snyder.

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