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Kansas City is bidding to host 2026 World Cup matches, led by a soccer fan with hometown roots

 Pembroke Hill  graduate and multi-sport athlete Katherine Fox sits on the bleachers overlooking the now-soccer pitch where she played field hockey.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Pembroke Hill graduate and multi-sport athlete Katherine Fox sits on the bleachers overlooking the now-soccer pitch where she played field hockey.

It's down to the wire for Kansas City and the other cities vying to serve as hosts for 2026 World Cup soccer matches. And the head of Kansas City's effort, who is a native with a passion for soccer, likes her hometown's chances.

“To be from Kansas City and to be working on this event is incredibly inspiring and, I think, it shined through,” said Katherine Fox, who was in charge of rolling out the red carpet when FIFA, soccer's governing body, made a site visit on Oct. 21.

Fox had been appointed to manage the city's bid just one month earlier. The stress of an 11th-hour nod didn't unsettle Fox, who oversaw Kansas City’s efforts to host the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Before returning to Kansas City to work for the sports commission in 2015, Fox spent years in San Francisco working for Visa as its director of affluent assets and in New York City working for a global marketing agency and the Madison Square Garden Company.

Through the years, she's held tight to her Kansas City roots, recently returning to Pembroke Hill’s Wornall Road campus where she was shown some of the school’s updated facilities since she graduated in 1997.

That time-capsule moment provided a chance for Fox to reflect.

“It’s very full-circle,” said Fox, whose last name was Holland during her school years. “It feels surreal to be walking this campus in this role with the goal of bringing the biggest sporting event in our world to our city.”

In high school, Fox played three sports — field hockey, basketball and soccer — and then moved on to play soccer, her favorite sport, at Trinity College in Connecticut.

It was during Fox’s high school years when the late Lamar Hunt announced Kansas City as one of the charter cities in the 1995 formation of Major League Soccer.

What Hunt did for soccer didn’t go unnoticed by Fox then, nor by FIFA during its site visit, when it was acknowledged by Lamar’s son, Clark.

“That’s another full-circle situation because he (Lamar Hunt) built Arrowhead with the goal of hosting a World Cup match,” said Fox. “To be able to tell the FIFA delegation that was critical.”

FIFA made it clear that Arrowhead would be one of its main focal points because some in the delegation had never visited Kansas City. Chiefs president Mark Donovan said the Kansas City organizers were well-prepared to answer all of FIFA’s questions about the proposed venue for World Cup matches.

“We had a lot of representation from a lot of different organizations at the very highest level,” said Donovan. “You felt an energy in the room that Kansas City really does want this.”

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Among those scrutinizing FIFA’s site visits is Grant Wahl, a Shawnee Mission East High School graduate who is now a well-connected soccer journalist based in New York City.

When asked what he heard about FIFA’s visit to Kansas City, Wahl said, “FIFA came away pretty happy with what they saw there, which included a sold-out soccer stadium for a U.S. women’s national team game.”

The U.S. women’s national team played to a scoreless tie in an exhibition game against the Republic of Korea at Children’s Mercy Park on the same day as FIFA’s visit.

When asked if FIFA pays attention to the growth of the women’s game around the U.S., Fox replied, “They absolutely do.”

Fox said the local organizing committee maximized its chance to talk about the growth of the women’s game in Kansas City at FIFA’s outdoor barbecue luncheon in the Kansas City Power & Light District.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say we were very strategic about who we placed at each table during the luncheon,” she said. “(Kansas City Current majority owners) Chris and Angie Long were both there.”

If Arrowhead is selected, it would be one of ten or eleven U.S. sites. The 2026 World Cup was awarded to the North American bid, so there will also be sites in Mexico and Canada. The tournament would run for roughly a month in July 2026, attracting billions of television viewers — 3.2 billion people watched the last men's World Cup, in 2018 (for comparison: 95 million people worldwide tuned into last season's Super Bowl). 

Fox said she has never felt prouder for her hometown in its effort on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri state line to make its case for the 2026 World Cup. From her view, Kansas City is providing multi-faceted proof.

“I’m feeling good about all these things that align,” said Fox. “Between the U.S. women’s national team game, the K.C. Current and Arrowhead being primed for a big event like this.”

Fox will find out whether those efforts were fruitful when FIFA announces its site selections next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Katherine Fox's employment with Visa. It has been corrected.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Ever since he set foot on the baseball diamond at Fernwood Park on Chicago's South Side, Greg Echlin began a love affair with the world of sports. After graduating from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, he worked as a TV sports anchor and a radio sportscaster in Salina, Kansas. He moved to Kansas City in 1984 and has been there since covering sports. Through the years, he has covered multiple Super Bowls, Final Fours and Major League Baseball's World Series and All-Star games.