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Across Mexico, World Cup infrastructure threatens biodiversity and communities

  • With Mexico co-hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026, major infrastructure works in the country’s three host cities could have negative impacts on local biodiversity, activists say.
  • In Guadalajara, conservationists express concern that new developments might undermine the local puma population, which has seen a comeback in the last seven years.
  • In Mexico City, locals say they haven’t been consulted about new roads and building projects that could threaten their water resources as well as tree cover.
  • In Monterrey, works planned near a protected area threatens fauna and flora conservation, experts say.

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — “It was such an incredible emotion to spot pumas in the Primavera biosphere reserve in Guadalajara City, close to Akron Stadium,” says Pedro Alcocer, coordinator at the NGO Anillo Primavera. Thought to have disappeared from the area in the 1980s, pumas (Puma concolor) were spotted there again a few years ago. Since 2017, there have been eleven sightings of male, female and cubs of Mexican pumas, according to the organization’s camera traps.

But the feline’s comeback could however be threatened by encroaching development for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which Mexico is co-hosting along with the U.S. and Canada, experts and communities say. Guadalajara’s pumas aren’t the only ones at risk. In Mexico City and Monterrey, the two other Mexican cities hosting matches, projects associated with the tournament are also accused of undermining surrounding ecosystems, water resources and wildlife conservation.

Saving Guadalajara’s pumas

Designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2006, the 30,000-hectare (74,000-acre) La Primavera surrounds Akron Stadium, located in the Bajío aquifer recharge zone, an area protected by a decree from Jalisco state since 2019.

“Some people would prefer La Primavera to no longer be a biosphere reserve,” Alcocer says. “There are too many economic interests, mainly related to real estate aims that would transform the protected area into an urban park: for people involved in this business it would be better if pumas didn’t exist.”

La Primavera biosphere reserve covers about 30,000 hectares and hosts a great variety of fauna, including pumas. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

Anillo Primavera, the organization that Alcocer leads, was created by the Jesuit University of Guadalajara (ITESO) bringing together professors, students and residents to protect the Primavera biosphere and local wildlife such as pumas, golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), raccoons (Procyon lotor), deer and migratory birds.

The Akron Stadium in Guadalajara is surrounded by La Primavera MaB UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in the El Bajío, aquifer recharge zone. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

With Guadalajara planned to host four World Cup matches, environmentalists say they’re worried about a repeat of the real estate expansion triggered by the Pan American Games in 2011. “A hundred and sixty apartments of the Villa Panamericana were built during the [Pan American] games in the protected area of La Primavera. It was an arbitrary decision, because the development plans do not allow for this construction,” Alcocer tells Mongabay. “The Villa Panamericana was created for hosting thousands of athletes in the protected water absorption area of El Bajío. Then we witnessed cases of abusive construction and wastewater contamination, and today the Villa Panamericana entered the real estate market.”

The municipal government of Zapopan, part of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area where Akron Stadium is located, declared that no public works have been registered ahead of the World Cup, as planning is done at the beginning of every year. But plans by the recently elected local administration include several projects to improve urban mobility and widen the roads ahead of the World Cup.

Camera traps capture a puma in 2019 in La Primavera Biosphere Reserve. Image courtesy of Anillo Primavera.

Environmentalists say the area’s pumas could continue losing their ecosystem, which is already under pressure. “The male puma needs approximately 60,000 hectares [148,000 acres]. That is double the extent of La Primavera,” says Sandra Valdes, coordinator of the architecture faculty at ITESO and part of Anillo Primavera. “Consequently, the pumas we saw [in camera traps] are constantly moving from the reserve to the biological corridor. “We expect 50,000 spectators and 4,000 cars parked for the [World] Cup: it’s urgent to measure the impact on the water absorption area and on light and acoustic pollution.”

Agave monoculture close to the La Primavera Biosphere Reserve. Ever-increasing demand for tequila continues to boost agave plantation expansion. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

Activists with Anillo Primavera and other organizations, alongside residents such as Gloria Sánchez from the Puerta Poniente civil society group, are asking the Jalisco state government to create a buffer area surrounding La Primavera, to prevent the expansion of real estate construction and as protection from forest fires and monocultures of berries and agave.

Mexico City: More constructions, less water and trees for the people

In the capital, residents say they’re concerned about the expansion of Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, which will host the opening match of the World Cup. The area is inhabited mostly by Indigenous peoples in the settlements of Saint Úrsula Coapa and San Lorenzo Huipulco, which have existed since pre-Hispanic times.

“In Mexico, we do not have as many stadiums as in [the U.S. and Canada],” says Natalia Lara, an environmentalist living near the Azteca. “Therefore, the selection was almost obvious, among the ones that satisfied all requirements.”

“In 2021, we discovered the World Cup would be held here because the Ministry of the Environment sent officials to ask questions to the residents,” says Ruben Ramírez, traditional authority of Santa Úrsula Coapa. “After that, we asked the Secretariat for Transparency in Mexico City to see construction plans for the World Cup.”

Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium will host the opening match of the 2026 World Cup. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

Born in Santa Úrsula Coapa, Ramírez is no stranger to the suffering caused by development; in 1962, his grandparents were among 500 local families who were evicted for the construction of Azteca Stadium.

According to the official documents, the World Cup should lead to the construction of two buildings with seven levels for hotels and offices, a shopping center, and three multistory parking lots. “As residents, we were not consulted or informed of environmental impact assessments,” Ramírez says. “According to Mexico City’s constitution, carrying out those works requires the authorization of the original peoples, and we have not authorized anything.”

Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium project. Image via Portal de la Transparencia Mexico City.

The new roads and constructions could cause the clearing of around 800 native trees (42 of which have already been cleared), including species such as tepozán (Buddleja cordata) and pirul (Schinus areira). Some of these trees are part of the local Arlington Park. Construction will also worsen the current water shortage. “More than 1200 families like us will be left without water. People are fascinated by football and don’t understand what is behind it,” says Lara, a resident of Avenida del Imán, located 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the stadium, who has been fighting to defend water rights for the past 10 years. “The new buildings will be near the Water Forest” — a biological corridor that covers more than 230,000 hectares (568,000 acres) of forest area — “putting at risk … the forest … that helps filter the groundwater needed by people living in Mexico City,” Lara says. “The World Cup is an excuse to promote construction: we are planning protests and legal actions to stop them.”

Neighbors protesting against the expansion of Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. They are part of the Indigenous peoples of Saint Úrsula Coapa and San Lorenzo Huipulco living in the area surrounding the stadium. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

Monterrey: A very trafficked protected area

In Monterrey, the capital of the northeastern state of Nuevo León, BBVA stadium will host four World Cup matches in 2026. Inaugurated in 2015, the stadium was built inside La Pastora, a 100-hectare (250-acre) park acquired by the state government in the mid-1980s for public use.

The stadium is also near Rio La Silla Park, a protected natural area and biological corridor that hosts a large number of animal and plant species and a variety of migratory birds. “Species in Rio La Silla include the American beaver [Castor canadensis], protected by the federal government. It had not been seen in our area for years, but recently some families have returned here,” says Antonio Hernandez, a biologist working with a group of residents to protect Monterrey’s natural areas.

Here, residents and environmentalists say they’re concerned that infrastructure building and increased mobility will affect flora and fauna preservation. “They are widening a road that allows people to arrive quickly from the airport to get to the center,” Hernandez says. “The municipality is also building cycle paths and pedestrian streets, but in both cases the objective is to reach the stadium, not to improve citizen mobility, which is terrible. We believe those two projects do not respond to the inhabitants’ needs, but only to the World Cup economic interests.”

Locals distribute leaflets close to Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium to protest against the expansion of the complex before the World Cup 2026, deploring potential risks for water resources and the local ecosystem. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

Mexico’s environment ministry, known as SEMARNAT, declined to comment when contacted by Mongabay about these concerns, saying the issue isn’t a matter of federal jurisdiction. The governments of Jalisco and Mexico City similarly didn’t respond.

But according to activists and communities in the three World Cup host cities, the economic interests aligned with the tournament fail to properly consider the environment and wildlife conservation. “Those types of events impact different species, such as the puma,” Valdes from Anillo Primavera tells Mongabay. “It is very important to take into account the impacts of light and noise pollution, [or] these species will migrate to other areas. We have to preserve the health of our ecosystems and quality of life for local populations; we need to focus major public policy decisions on conservation.”

Banner image: Murals close to Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium bear messages against the expansion of the complex before the World Cup 2026 and the possible risks for the hydric resources and surrounding ecosystem. Image by Monica Pelliccia for Mongabay.

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