New York: Far from impeding a World Cup bid, souring diplomatic relations between the US and Mexico emboldened those country’s soccer leaders to find common ground through pursuing one of the biggest events in sports.
The US could have gone it alone trying to host the 2026 World Cup, but it is seeking goodwill from FIFA and its neighbours by joining forces with Mexico and Canada.
“Especially with what’s going on in the world today, we believe this is a hugely positive signal and symbol of what we can do together in unifying people," US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said at Monday’s bid launch, “especially in our three countries".
Gulati didn’t directly mention President Donald Trump in that particular remark, but the impact of the policies of the fledging administration on a World Cup bid involving feuding neighbors was a constant theme during the event atop the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
Trump has derided Mexico as a source of rapists and criminals, and vowed to build a wall on the border. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall.
Such tensions are at odds with the apparent glowing endorsement by Trump of Mexico’s participation in a World Cup bid that currently faces no competitors.
“We have very specifically addressed this with the president," Gulati said of the Trump controversies. “He is fully supportive of the joint bid, encouraged the joint bid, and is especially pleased with the fact Mexico is participating."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Gulati later clarified that he had not directly spoken to Trump.
“I’m not on the phone with the president or sitting down to dinner with him," Gulati said. “But he knows what we want to do."
Gulati maintained that he’s “not at all concerned about some of the issues that other people may raise."
Another of those issues are Trump’s plans — since stopped by courts — to bar new visas for people from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last month that all players, team officials, and support staff from the 48 finalists “need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup. That is obvious."
The 2026 World Cup will be the first tournament since FIFA expanded the field from 32 nations. A triple-hosted tournament poses logistical challenges trying to accommodate 48 teams, but the plethora of soccer facilities in North America offers some certainty to FIFA after likely challenging tournaments in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
“A good signal to the rest of the world is that this can be done without necessarily building infrastructure or venues specifically for one event," Gulati said.
The US, which hosted the World Cup in 1994, would dominate by staging 60 games, including all from the quarterfinals and on.
Mexico and Canada would have to settle for 10 games each. As a consolation, Mexico wants the opener at its 87,000-capacity Azteca Stadium if it becomes the first three-time World Cup host.
The US, Mexico, and Canada all expect to qualify automatically — as the last co-hosts South Korea and Japan did in 2002 — but the FIFA Council has the final decision on the 2026 slots. The quota of finalists for CONCACAF, the North and Central American and Caribbean region, will double to at least six under the new format.
The hosting rights are due to be awarded by FIFA in 2020.
Africa and South America are eligible to bid but no countries from those continents have publicly declared an interest.
“We heard something about Morocco," Gulati said, “but we don’t know yet."
Argentina and Uruguay are keen on co-hosting the centenary World Cup in 2030.
FIFA rules currently prevent 2026 bidders from Europe and Asia because they will have hosted the previous two tournaments.
The US participated in the 2018 and 2022 bidding contest but lost in a hotly disputed vote that sparked corruption investigations. The fallout from the two FIFA executive committee votes included the forced departure of long-standing president Sepp Blatter and the criminal indictments in the U.S. of more than 40 people.
The procedure will change for the 2026 World Cup with the entire FIFA membership, which stands at 211, having a vote.
Details of the host cities for 2026 are yet to be announced but the U.S. portion of the bid will rely on the gleaming stadiums opened by the NFL in the past two decades.
Among the possible venues are MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (82,500 capacity); AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (80,000); Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California (68,500); Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts (66,000); and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (69,500).
Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000) is set to open this year and an 80,000-seat stadium for the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California, in 2019. The Washington Redskins also hope for a new home.
Chicago’s Soldier Field is the only one of the 1994 venues likely to be used, having undergone a complete renovation. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, also has been modernized and a soccer-style roof over the seats was added.
As well as the Azteca Stadium in Mexico, there are relatively new venues in Monterrey (BBVA Bancomer, 52,000, 2015) and Guadalajara (Estadio Chivas, 45,000, 2010).
Canada’s largest arena is Commonwealth Stadium (56,000) in Edmonton, Alberta, which was renovated ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia (54,500) was used in 2015. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (56,000) and Toronto’s Rogers Centre (53,000) are less ideal for soccer in their current states.