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World Cup Site Up for Grabs, but Balance of Power Has Shifted

20 Mar, 2015

By: SDM Staff

FIFA's executive committee announced it will decide the host of the 2026 World Cup -- the next tournament for which the USA is eligible to bid to host -- in 2017. The US is widely considered the favorite to host – or is it? FIFA’s World Cup site selection process has been termed “shrouded in mystery” by EPSN-FC.  However, all that is said to be changing.

According to an article by Paul Kenndy on the e-newsletter, Soccer America Daily, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke has promised transparency “from the first minute of the process" after the scandal-ridden 2018 and 2022 bid processes, but it remains to be seen just what the rules will be -- most critically, who can or can't bid:

The article noted:

“FIFA's executive committee will vote at its next meeting on the rules for the bidding process.

Changing the rules for the bidding process is nothing new. FIFA had a rotation system in place to award the tournament among nations from its different confederation, but that was dropped before Concacaf got its next turn since the USA last hosted in 1994.

More recently, nations from the last two confederations that have hosted the World Cup have been barred from hosting the next tournament. If that was in place, nations from Europe (Russia 2018) and Asia (Qatar 2022) would be ineligible for the 2026 bid. That would make nations from Concacaf and Africa the leading candidates.

The one thing we know about the 2026 World Cup bid process that will be different is that it will decided by FIFA's 209 member associations, not the members of the executive committee. In 2010, Qatar beat out the USA, 14-8, in the final round of voting. Two executive committee members were suspended shortly before voting in Zurich.

The executive committee's role will likely be to approve a short list of qualified candidates. If such a process had been in place before the 2010 vote, Qatar might have been excluded because of concerns about the heat. Since the vote, FIFA has decided to switch the 2022 finals from summer to the late fall.

What this change does mean is that balance of power shifts dramatically. Europe had one-third of the vote in 2010 -- eight of 24 members. South America -- which went with Qatar -- had three of the 24 votes in 2010. Now South America comprises just 10 of the 209 votes.

Critically, the voting change increases the influence of African and Asian members, who comprise 101 of the 209 current members. If you don't understand their importance, just look at where FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been concentrating on garnering votes for his reelection campaign. He's all but a shoo-in because of his work doubling down on political ties in Africa and Asia.

Barring Asian countries from hosting back-to-back tournaments will be critical if the USA wants to prevail this time. China (and to a lesser extent, Australia) would be the USA's biggest rivals in an open contest.”

The text of the full Soccer America Daily article is available here.

So what are the USA’s chances, really? North America will have been going on 32 years without a World Cup by the time 2026 rolls around, and after all, the American federation felt severely slighted during the 2022 voting process in their eventual loss to Qatar.

NBC Sports, in its Pro Soccer News segment, noted, “since the last time North America hosted a World Cup (1994 in the US), it has been brought to Europe three times, South America once, Africa once, and Asia twice. The attendance records that were set during that tournament still stand today.”

However, Canada has announced its candidacy as a 2026 host as well. In an article on Fox News, it was reported that the Canadian Soccer Association plans to throw its hat in the ring – and that it feels confident in its credentials.

''We're the only G-8 nation to not host the World Cup,'' CSA president Victor Montagliani said Thursday. ''We've hosted almost every other event. ... I think it's time for Canada to step up to the plate.''

Canada has hosted FIFA youth tournaments and will stage next year's Women's World Cup.

Where the World Cup ends up – well, it’s a toss-up. There might be some clues. ESPN-FC reported that FIFA, rather than starting a bidding war for television rights to the 2026 World Cup, already awarded those rights in the United States and Canada. On Thursday, they announced that they were simply "extending" the agreements with the broadcasters who had secured the rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments: Telemundo (U.S. Spanish language), Fox (U.S. English language) and CTV/TSN (Canada).

However, FIFA notes, this has nothing to do with location, and everything to do with extending agreements that are currently in place.

In other words, where the World Cup will be is anyone’s guess, and the USA will find out – along with the rest of the world – in 2017.

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