Sports

The US, Canada and Mexico want to co-host the 2026 World Cup — and Trump approves, says soccer chief

RTX2TAWI.jpg

On Nov. 11, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio, USA defender Omar Gonzalez (3) heads the ball over Mexico forward/midfielder Giovani dos Santos (10) during the second half of the match at MAPFRE Stadium.

Credit:

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA Today Sports via Reuters

US Soccer Federation chief Sunil Gulati, who announced the bid in New York with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, insisted they had the full backing of President Donald Trump, despite the US leader's rocky relations with Mexico.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Gulati said 60 of the tournament's matches would be staged in the United States, with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 games each. The United States would host all knockout games from the quarterfinals onwards, he added.

He played down the possibility that politics could hamper the bid, emphasizing that Trump was "especially pleased" with Mexico's involvement.

"The president of the US is fully supportive... We are not at all concerned at some of the concerns that some people may raise," Gulati said.

Trump was elected last year after a campaign marked by rhetoric against Mexico, vowing to build a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants he branded "criminals" and "rapists."

"It definitely seems the US bid [is] kind of bringing along Mexico and Canada as bridesmaids," says Andrea Canales who blogs about soccer for ESPN at One Nacion. "It's being done to dress up the idea of what may be unpalatable to a lot of countries and voters in FIFA, and that's letting a country that's currently led by a president that wants to build walls and wants to have certain bans on people from certain countries. So the US is trying to put some of the negative associations in the background."

The joint bid will start as the heavy early favorite in the race, despite US prosecutors leading the probe into football corruption which rocked the sport in 2015 and led to the downfall of former FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter.

A bid from the North America region for 2026 had long been regarded as inevitable by FIFA watchers.

That sense of certainty hardened last year, when FIFA's council ruled that neither Europe nor Asia would be eligible to run for the 2026 tournament on the grounds that the regions are hosting the next two World Cups. Russia is hosting the 2018 finals, followed by Qatar in 2022.

With Europe and Asia ineligible, CONCACAF could in theory face potential competition from the Africa, South America and Oceania regional confederations.

US soccer officials had been publicly coy about the possibility of a future World Cup bid since the country lost out to Qatar in the battle for the 2022 tournament at a corruption-tarnished vote in Zurich in 2010.

However the prospect of a fresh American bid gathered momentum in 2014 after the World Cup in Brazil.

That campaign captured the imagination of US sports fans, with huge crowds attending public screenings of games at cities across the country.

The country's club game is also booming, with record numbers attending Major League Soccer games in 2016.

The United States also burnished its credentials as a major tournament host with last year's 16-team Copa América Centenario.

Another strength of the bid, says Canales, is the top-notch facilities available in the US. "They definitely have the highest-capacity stadiums of any country in the world. They also have top-level technology so the problems that there were in Brazil this last World Cup where reporters at the games didn't have wifi for example, that's not going to a problem in any of the US venues." Canada, too, has excellent stadiums, adds Canales, which were highlighted during its recent hosting of the Women's World Cup. "Canada wants to participate in a way that shows the world that they can be a player on that global stage," says Canales.

The United States first hosted the World Cup in 1994, staging a commercially successful 24-team tournament that played out to packed stadiums.

The 1994 tournament remains the most attended World Cup in history, with just over 3.5 million fans flocking to its 52 games, an average of 68,991 per match.

Mexico has hosted the World Cup twice before — the 1970 finals won by a Pelé-inspired Brazil and the 1986 tournament won by an Argentina team led by Diego Maradona.

Canada, who have only made one World Cup appearance when they were eliminated in the first round of the 1986 finals, has never hosted the tournament.

However, Canada earned plaudits for its staging of the Womens' World Cup in 2015, which was won by the United States in the final in Vancouver.

Under FIFA plans for its expanded 48-team World Cup, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is awarded six berths. Gulati indicated that officials expected all three host nations to be granted places.

"There has never been a World Cup where the host countries have not been qualified," Gulati said.

A tournament in North America is also likely to be attractive to FIFA for solid public relations reasons.

With dozens of modern, tournament-ready venues to choose from, there is little risk of stadiums being left to rot as white elephants following the event, a problem which has embroiled grounds used at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

"We have the luxury of having stadiums that already exist," Gulati stated. "The thought of building sports facilities that don't have a long-term use is not particularly inviting for anyone."

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.