Chicago’s recent World Cup decisions prove smarter than they first appeared, by Marcus Gilmer
The World Cup quarterfinals get underway tomorrow, and though the U.S. is out, there’s already excitement about the country co-hosting the 2026 tournament with Canada and Mexico.
That includes Chicago, a soccer-mad city. U.S. Soccer is based here. And in 1994, the first time the World Cup came to the U.S., Chicago hosted the opening ceremonies (featuring Oprah!), the opening match and several additional matches.
But come 2026, the city will miss out on the action because, in 2018, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel withdrew Chicago from the 2026 bid, citing taxpayer risk and demands from FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
What’s less well-remembered: In early 2010, Chicago also withdrew from a U.S. World Cup bid (for 2022) citing concerns about the cost to taxpayers and “a tough economy.”
At the time, the move didn’t make sense. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley hadn’t seemed that concerned about taxpayer risks and costs a few months earlier when he led the city’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, an event known for causing financial turmoil. (Even just bidding for the Olympics cost taxpayers.)
In addition to FIFA’s rigidity, losing that Olympic bid likely also impacted Daley’s decision to withdraw from the World Cup bid. Sunil Gulati, then-president of U.S. Soccer, said at the time, “I think there’s a little Olympic fatigue. . . .(Chicago) had a tough time wrestling with FIFA requirements and when we approached them they were still in the middle of their (failed 2016) Olympic bid.”
But, in hindsight, ditching that bid proved prescient. Later in 2010, the U.S. lost its bid anyway—to Qatar. And, by 2015, FIFA was embroiled in a corruption scandal over both the Qatar decision and awarding Russia the 2018 World Cup.
That City Hall made prudent financial decisions—twice!—and deemed another organization too difficult (and corrupt) to deal with is worth noting for the history books.