By Callum McCloskey, PhD researcher at University of the West of Scotland (UWS).

I recently returned from a two-month mobility to the US; its purpose to carry out observation and conversations, as the first phase of my study, entitled: ‘Mega Events, Governance and Human Rights: A Case Study of the United 2026 World Cup’. The mobility encompassed a one-month stay at EventRights partner institution North Carolina (NC) State University, followed by two weeks in both Philadelphia, and New York/New Jersey- both host cities for the next edition for the FIFA World Cup (WC).

Phase 1: NC State University, Raleigh (NC)

I was kindly hosted by Dr. Mike Edwards and Prof. Jason Bocarro, from the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at NC State (EventRights partner institution). Throughout the course of my stay, I attended numerous sporting events at NC State, including football (soccer), basketball, baseball, tennis and ice hockey, to gauge how US fan culture operates in practice. The standard of these sporting facilities (along with other universities/colleges in the area) is such that they will play host to the World University Games in 2029. Further, as part of UWS CCSE’s Conversations Series, I carried out two stimulating conversations with each of my hosts, Mike and Jason- both with a focus on Sports Mega Events (SMEs), as well as US soccer development with Dr Edwards, and student-athlete mental health with Prof Bocarro. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Hill Carrow, who spearheaded North Carolina’s winning bid for the World University Games.









Phase 2: Host-city observational visits

Being granted the opportunity to visit the following cities in-person allowed me to differentiate between the theoretical bid plans and rhetoric, and realities on the ground. While a lot of the gathered information is confidential at this point, there will be much to learn in the coming months and years ahead, and much to be discovered as updated plans and initiatives become public knowledge.

Philadelphia reflections

Philadelphia is well versed in the hosting of large events, although not previously to the level of the FIFA World Cup, after hosting the 2016 Copa America Centenario, the CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals, and a Papal visit (both 2015). Philadelphia is very much a ‘city for sport’, with teams in each of the major sporting leagues- 76ers (basketball), Phillies (baseball), Eagles (American football) and the Union (football). Each of these stadiums are in the same area of land, at the NRG subway station, apart from the Union stadium, which is located in Chester, 1 hour outside the city. The general consensus is that ‘soccer’ is on the rise, but due to the expense of travelling to games, avid soccer fans often cannot make the longer journey.
With plentiful rhetoric surrounding inclusion within Philadelphia’s bid documents, I thought it an essential topic to explore. The current Mayor, Jim Kenney, elected in 2015, is ‘all about inclusion’ according to those I spoke with. During his tenure, Philadelphia was named a ‘Certified Welcoming’ city, in that it has demonstrated high levels of immigrant inclusion and support, and now has a dedicated Office for Immigrant Affairs in government. In a soccer sense, the city, since 2016, has a ‘Unity Cup’. This tournament essentially runs in a World Cup format, where teams from each immigrant nation (over 40 in the most recent edition) compete against one another for the chance to play at one of the city’s biggest stadiums in the final. This was the brainchild of Mayor Jim Kenney, running in conjunction with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and was one of the driving factors behind the World Cup bid. Relating to the World Cup bid committee, Philadelphia has a large committee, with a sub-committee on human rights (HR), and created a Social Impact Council, which itself has 47 members and 5 subcommittees. However, upon speaking to members of this Council, they cited that they had not received any communication since the bid was won in June 2022, on the part of FIFA also, and indicated a typical ‘cooling off’ period post-Qatar World Cup; imagining that operations would start up again soon. In terms of HR, Philadelphia practice is split into two categories- human services (shelter, homeless, drug problems) and civil rights (discrimination, trafficking). Philadelphia also have a Civil Rights Rapid Response Team, which involves a collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement, and key community partners. In terms of FIFA’s involvement, it was a case of they were content as long as there was not anything completely untoward going on, and for Philadelphia, they described that it was more about showcasing what was already happening at the city level, in terms of HR. As one person put it – Philadelphia are building their own car, that FIFA are happy to drive. Furthermore, like any other city, Philadelphia has its problems. Investment in public infrastructure, housing and education is criminally low. In fact, Pennsylvania’s underfunding of education was branded ‘unconstitutional’. When the World Cup arrives, tourists will likely be pigeon-holed to areas of Center City and South Philadelphia, with underprivileged areas in the North and West unlikely to reap economic benefits from the tournament. Hence, regeneration, and the diminishing of crime rates and the opioid epidemic in these areas is improbable. The inclusion rhetoric falls on its knees when issues such as these are brought forth.









New York/New Jersey reflections

Firstly, it must be said that New York (NY) itself is a city above (nearly) all others, and is its own world, so to speak. This fact has its positive and negative connotations for hosting a sport mega event. On the positive side, given its status as a tourist hotspot and metropolis, has hosted multiple mega and major sporting events, such as the NBA All-Star Game, Super Bowl and FIFA World Cup (1994), so is an ideal destination. However, in actuality, it is New Jersey (NJ) where the World Cup matches will be held. Further, due to its position as the forefront of many industries and a microcosm of the world, New York is one of the frontrunners of human rights, especially relating to immigrant/ LGBTQI+ rights. Contrastingly, New York’s lofty city status means that mega events are nothing new, and so the excitement for the event is only tangible weeks before the event, as noted by the NBA in terms of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, rather than months or years, which is the case for smaller settlements. The journey for New York/New Jersey to host the World Cup began in 2008, where a tiny bid team, that involved three members of NYC and Company (the city’s marketing and tourism organisation, which integrated with the NYC Sports Commission in 2010), and three of those from the MetLife Stadium, began planning to bid for the 2018/2022 editions of the tournament (as USA) – bids which were ultimately unsuccessful, despite having the same general design and human rights promises in place as they had for the successful bid for the 2026 edition. Of course, the corruption involved in the awarding of the 2018/2022 tournaments has been widely documented. Further, the name of ‘New York’ dominates any media coverage relating to events that may be held in New Jersey, and all sport franchises located in New Jersey are named as ‘New York’ teams for marketing reasons: the New York Jets and Giants (American football) share the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and the New York Red Bulls (football) are also based at Red Bull Arena, New Jersey). The relationship between the two dominions, is deemed ‘symbiotic’, in that NY know NJ have the MetLife stadium, and NJ know NY has the pulling power, rendering this working relationship mutually beneficial.
While NY/NJ is an ideal host from an infrastructure and tourist standpoint, every city has issues. With housing rights a principal theme in the human rights principles of each city bid, it should be noted that there is a lack of availability and affordability of housing in NY, with continuing gentrification pushing potential residents to the wayside. Further, concerns surrounding climate change, the environment and sustainability are constant, and are continually a theme in city planning, particularly given how it is somewhat an island city, with its position between two rivers. Relating to sustainability, from conversations with local actors, it is unlikely that there will be any development of the city per se, in terms of policy/planning/infrastructure, as New York is too ‘high and mighty’ for the WC to expedite proceedings in policy, or make a dent in any systemic issues. However, there is hope that the tournament could serve as a tool of development for sports participation, in terms of funds drawn from WC money, and would be operated by public-private partnerships.









Concluding remarks

From observation on NC State’s university campus, the surrounding Raleigh area, Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey, the clear message is that if you have accumulated capital, you can live the ‘American dream’, but to live prosperously in ‘the land of the free’, this is conditional on the fact that that you have the financial backing to access this freedom. Overall, it is clear to see how the US is stricken with a binary outlook- those with capital will prosper, and those without are perpetually left behind. However, even those who have been left behind in terms of the US capitalist system, are immensely patriotic, with US flags hanging outside the most run-down domiciles. After reading about the notion of ‘perception as reality’, its relevance in terms of SMEs, and thus the World Cup, became apparent. On reflection, it is likely that this FIFA/USA ‘co-branded’ experience will be rolled out for tourists travelling to the tournament. When the fans return home, they will relay stories of the ‘co-branded’ version of the city, rather than the ‘everyday’ one- with historically ignored areas of the city, remaining neglected.