Are the wheels coming off the train when it comes to the USA’s chance of hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup? The buzz in the sports world says yes. That's bad news for all the cities that had planned to be part of the bid, which, if successful, is projected to bring upwards of $5 billion in economic impact to North America.
According to an ESPN article, the ‘United Bid’ – so called because the USA planned to make it in concert with Canada and Mexico – has already lost its frontrunner status to the nation of Morocco. This insight came “from multiple high-ranking football executives within FIFA and the continental confederations.”
The culprit, as usual, is politics. CBC-Radio Canada noted,
With voting coming up just before the World Cup begins on June 14, there are doubts the North American bid will get the votes needed to win out over Morocco. Late bids can come in before March 14, but for now, it's North America and Morocco, and according to ESPN, one source has Africa, parts of Asia and South America going for Morocco, so the North American bid would need to counter with parts of Europe, parts of Asia and Oceania in its corner. The prospective host nations can't vote and Guatemala is suspended, meaning the winning bidder needs 104 votes out of the 211 member nations.
The USA, having lost out on hosting the 2022 World Cup (which will now be held in Qatar), and having followed coverage of the subsequent investigation into the FIFA bid process, has already developed a strong sense of ownership of the 2026 event. But Morocco has a similar attachment. After all, that nation’s bid, recently endorsed by disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, was unsuccessful in four previous attempts to win World Cup hosting rights,
Further political factors come into play, according to ESPN:
At this particular moment in time, does the world want to give something nice to the United States? There already was a leeriness toward the United States in corners of the football world, particularly in South America, as some national federations remain upset over how an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice exposed widespread corruption among their executives.
And at a time when it could be devoting its resources to promoting the three-nation concept, the United Bid has had to fight against what ESPN sees as an overall anti-American sentiment that stems largely from actions taken by the Trump administration. “Those actions include a travel ban affecting mostly Arab countries, public comments that perpetuate stereotypes and the reported use of profanity in describing poorer countries.”
And, says ESPN, “when North American bid officials visit with federation officials in a foreign country, they rarely get questions about stadiums or hotels, according to sources; rather, they have been quizzed about whether the United States can be considered a friendly place for foreigners.”
Something that may work in the United Bid’s favor is the election of new U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro. Cordeiro has made it a priority to stress cooperation and unity among the three nations who could host the event.
Of course, there are those who still believe the United Bid remains on solid ground, asserting that while the margin of victory would be far from the landslide previously expected – and while heavy lobbying is expected to take place, meaning the bid would come down to the final days – there would be an eventual victory, thanks to the expected backing of the Americas, Oceania, most of Europe and part of Asia.
The ballots will be cast just days before the opening match of the 2018 World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow -- with the 2026 hosts expected to be announced on June 13.
SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.