Lessons from Qatar: How Philly is already planning for the 2026 World Cup
Plans for how Philadelphia will host the men's World Cup 2026 are being informed by lessons at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Meg Kane found out Philadelphia was a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup precisely when most of the world did: 5:44 p.m. on June 16. She was standing in LOVE Park at that moment. Kane is the host city officer/executive for Philadelphia Soccer 2026. After being part of a three-year bidding process to woo FIFA, Kane shared that she’d experienced no greater anticipation than she did waiting for that announcement.
It’s been four months now since that momentous confirmation. Now Kane has just wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Doha as part of FIFA’s observer program. The experience in Qatar during this year’s tournament will inform what’s to come in Philadelphia. Though, in many ways, everyone can expect a different event.
For one thing, Qatar crowded a typically expansive tournament into mostly one city because of its small size. That presented several organizational challenges to FIFA and Qatar, yet also many benefits to the fans, players, media, and executives who attended.
Kane said comparing 2022 to 2026 is like “apples to string beans” for that reason. Rather than crowding the visitors from around the world into one centralized place, 2026 will cast them across three large, varied nations. Games will be scattered out across 16 host cities, including Philadelphia.
Despite the differences, Kane said her lessons learned in Doha were “vast.” She attended multiple matches, toured facilities from media presentation studios to the media center to match day stadiums, and observed tournament essentials like branding, transportation, and other infrastructure elements.
The infrastructure is the easy part, Kane says, because Philly already has it. That’s not to say new hotels or businesses won’t spring up in advance of the 2026 World Cup. But Doha’s immense burden to build — stadiums, accommodation, grocery stores, you name it — won’t be felt the same way in Philadelphia. The FIFA capacity requirements already are met.
A particular item of note in Doha has been the accessibility of transportation. The affordability of Uber rides — which never seem to be more than 5 minutes away, no matter where anyone is in the city — alongside free, safe, and clean public transportation has been a highly lauded element to the World Cup.
Ensuring ease of transport is something Kane is confident Philly will deliver on, but it remains high on the list of planning priorities.
Philadelphia has more robust public transportation than many American cities, and SEPTA has been a trusted partner for large events. As Kane points out, SEPTA is no stranger to getting thousands of people back and forth from the Linc on a game day. They’ll be tapping into that for the World Cup.
Kane thinks one thing many Americans may need to adjust to is knowing that the World Cup requires a change in mentality for a car-heavy culture.
“This is not a car event, this is a walking event,” she said.
In Doha, there is extensive organization surrounding the walking routes and pedestrian-cuing elements arriving to matches, and Kane made ample note of that during her trip.
Many broadcast partners in Qatar chose memorable backdrops for their studio, such as the Souq Waqif, a historic marketplace in central Doha. That’s something that really stuck with Kane, and she had fun imagining the wide-ranging Philly locales broadcasters might settle into in Philadelphia.
“What I loved about the outside presentation facilities was that these captured the authenticity of Doha, especially those at Souq Waqif. If I had one hope for hosting the World Cup in Philadelphia is that we introduce the world to the Philadelphia we know.
“If that means live shots at John’s Roast Pork on Snyder, we’ll make it happen. If that means CNN broadcasts live from Fishtown, Bartram’s Garden, or the River Wards, let’s do it. If Italian TV decides the Italian Market is its home away from home for a month, let’s go for it. We want the world to see Philadelphia as the gem it is — and it isn’t all in Center City.”
Another thing to strike Kane is the omnipresent World Cup branding, covering everything in Doha from the metro to building facades to miles and miles of branded bike racks.
“God bless the teams that put up that branded bike rack,” Kane said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen that in my life.”
Kane isn’t sure Philadelphia will want or need to pull off branding that pervasive. But she looks forward to FIFA’s rollout of the 2026 brand story, which she expects imminently as the organizers turn toward 2026 marketing in earnest in the next year.
Philly will take that brand story, and adapt it to the City of Brotherly Love — a city already equipped with a multifaceted story to tell. Bringing that story to the world, and the world to that story, was part of the passion behind getting the bid.
“We’re a surprise and a delight,” Kane said, describing the way Philadelphia can sometimes be overlooked, but then has a way of winning visitors over. As the world filters in, much thought will be put into bringing its story to life.
That includes harnessing the history of the nation’s founding during a World Cup held during the 250th anniversary of American independence.
“The room where it happened isn’t in any other host city, it’s in ours,” she said.
Kane said tapping into Philly’s historic roots will include a look to the future. The foundation of the nation is tied to the unending pursuit of “a more perfect union,” Kane said, a key part of the story of Philadelphia.
The match schedule isn’t set yet, but Kane joked, “Don’t worry, I’ve put in a request for the game on July 4.”
Beyond history, Philadelphia 2026 is excited to involve every neighborhood of the city into the hosting spirit, delving into Philly’s restaurant scene, live music venues, arts and culture, and, yes, it’s (in)famous sporting spirit.
Reflecting on her visit to Qatar, Kane said the World Cup is by far the biggest and most passionate sporting event on Earth. But she thinks Philadelphians will be able to relate.
“The pride of country is beautiful, but make no mistake, these fans live and die with every play the way Philadelphians do when Jalen Hurts drops back or Bryce Harper steps to the plate,” she said. “One of my favorite moments in Doha was on [last] Tuesday night walking into Lusail’s metro station after the Portugal-Switzerland match. Moroccan fans, draped in their national flag, faces painted but running a bit from happy tears, were returning from their match, and cheers erupted — in all languages — just to acknowledge that victory. It was amazing, but it also made me think, ‘Philadelphia is going to love this.’ ”
There’s just a few days remaining in the 2022 World Cup. When it’s done, Kane emphasized that the next World Cup isn’t in 2026. It’s in six months, in Australia and New Zealand.
That multination, multicity event for the Women’s World Cup will be here before fans can blink. Kane hoped to attend and continue learning about details that could impact the success of Philadelphia 2026. FIFA and the world will be primarily focused on the women’s game Down Under in the coming months, but their attention toward 2026 is around the bend.
Selecting a location for the Fan Fest, official team training facilities, branding, and more is imminent. Kane plans to expand her team, and liaise with FIFA as that happens. Kane also assures a central focus in that process will be on the people of Philadelphia themselves. She understands if there is skepticism from some regarding the benefits of the city hosting such a gargantuan event. She hopes to assuage those fears.
Kane’s hope is that everyone feels welcome and included as joint hosts in a once-in-a-lifetime event. The second element to this, she says, is economic inclusion. Kane repeatedly said “not just Center City,”, emphasizing an interest to bring the tournament and its benefits to minority-owned businesses, to a wide variety of stakeholders and vendors, and to all of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
On the central question guiding her plans, Kane said, “How do we construct an event that is welcoming to all and really includes our residents as one, so that there isn’t that sense of I want to leave, but there is a sense of: I want to be part of this. I want to experience this. This will never happen again in my lifetime. I want to be part of the party. Because this is a party, and that is something that I think we want people to feel invited to, and to know that they’re not just welcome to the party, but they’re [playing the] part of the hosts.”