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FIFA Ready to Return to New and Improved World Cup Site Selection

18 May, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
U.S Seen as Early Favorite, But a Host of Other Changes to the Process Await Nations at the Bidding Table

Now, where were we…?

It seems to be the question FIFA is asking. With a new president in office and a renewed (or as some might more cynically put it, a new) commitment to transparency, the organization is ready to return to the process of selecting a location for the 2026 World Cup.

The U.S. is seen as the frontrunner, but don’t count out Canada, Colombia or Mexico – all three have indicated interest in hosting.

A host will be announced in May of 2020, according to an article in Inside The Games.

The new site selection process that was unveiled recently at FIFA’s congress in Mexico City will unfold in four phases, noted an article in the New York Times. The first will be a so-called strategy and consultation period in which FIFA will consider a possible expansion of the World Cup field; a review of the organization’s stance on joint bids by multiple countries; and the introduction of human rights and environmental and sustainability requirements for bidders. More on all those in a minute.

The return to decision-making might marks FIFA’s attempt to turn the page nearly a year to the day after the news of allegations of corruption broke over the sports world. President Gianni Infantino, elected as the new head of the organization at an Extraordinary Congress in Zurich in February, has made it clear the organization needs to get back to work.

FIFA is expected to decide on the number of participating nations in October of this year along with the eligibility of confederations as the organization ponders continental rotation of its flagship event. As part of his goals of office, Infantino had pledged to expand competition from 32 to 40 teams.

In order to be eligible for space at the negotiating table, countries will now have to demonstrate they meet human rights requirements, something that has been a source of embarrassment to FIFA, as well as organizers and sponsors, after reports of abuse at construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Bidders that do not meet the technical requirements can now be excluded at the first stage.

A consultation and investigation phase will follow. The bid preparation stage would begin in June 2017 and last until the following December. Bids would then be evaluated between January 2019 and February 2020 before a host is selected in May of that year.

Infantino has repeatedly stressed the need for FIFA to begin the hunt for a destination for the tournament a decade ahead, giving FIFA adequate investigation time, and giving potential host nations adequate time to comply with requirements, and to prepare and improve venues, infrastructure and more.

Other changes in the bid process are afoot as well. FIFA has announced it will consider the possibility of nations launching joint bids to host the World Cup. Only one joint event has ever been held (in 2002, between Japan and South Korea.) Already, Argentina and Uruguay  have already expressed an interest in the 2030 World Cup (the centennial event) and news of their intended joint effort has been received favorably by Infantino.

The United States last hosted the World Cup in 1994. Mexico and Canada, according to Soccer America Daily, are not able to match the USA in terms of the number of modern stadiums that could host the tournament. However, a relaxation of the rule implemented in May 2015 by FIFA's executive committee would allow China to bid for 2026. China is considered the only country that could beat the USA in a bid race. Reuters reported, however, that FIFA considered increasing the wait period from eight to 12 years or more and that there were no discussions about allowing a continent to host successive World Cups.

Under FIFA’s current continental rotation system, the 2026 host most likely would come from CONCACAF, which includes North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Times article noted that England has also expressed interest in hosting another World Cup, and Australia and New Zealand have explored the possibility of a joint bid. But with Russia (Europe) and Qatar (Asia) hosting the next two tournaments, FIFA would need to abandon its rotation system for either to be eligible. Under that system, confederations are barred from hosting if they have hosted either of the previous two World Cups.

And of course, the jockeying for position has already started. Soccer America Daily quoted two sources trading verbal swings with regard to site selection:

"I think that the three countries that have put up their hands are very, very strong in their own right and we will look for a collaborative strategy to bring the World Cup back to CONCACAF in 2026," noted CONCACAF president Canadian Victor Montagliani, who told Reuters he would work to make sure one of Canada, United States and Mexico -- or a shared bid -- would win the right to host the 2026 World Cup.

"No, why should we share it with Canada or anybody else when we can host it just as well by ourselves?" shot back Fox Sports commentator Alexi Lalas in an interview with PA Sport. "It's nothing against them -- we're a benevolent country -- but in this case I think it should be the United States and the United States alone."

One thing is for sure: the journey between now and 2020 will be interesting.

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