By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 12, 2017) US Soccer Players – The World Cup is coming to America. Maybe. Mostly, America… maybe. If you widen the definition of “America” beyond its usual connotation of the United States, to include the North American nations of Canada and Mexico, than the World Cup is still coming to America. Maybe, but rather than “mostly”, it would be maybe, in totality.
If you’re lost, that’s okay. Nothing like this has really happened before, and so it takes some getting used to.
“This” being the joint 2026 World Cup bid launched by the United States Soccer Federation, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación officially on the top floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan.
If the location isn’t notable to you, it should be. There’s a reason for announcing what is being called the “NAFTA” World Cup bid at One World Trade and not, say, in Toronto at the top of the CN Tower or in front El Angel in Mexico City. There is one clear leader in this bid, and it’s neither Canada nor Mexico.
Per Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer and a man who has already suffered through the disappointment of one failed World Cup bid, the United States would host 60 of the 80 games in a 48-team tournament. That leaves just 10 games for each of the “partner” nations. The US will put on everything from the quarterfinal round onward. Considering the passion for the sport that exists in Mexico, it seems odd that the FMF would sign off on such a plan. Considering the ambition that the CSA has shown and CSA president Victor Montagliani’s role as CONCACAF president, it seems odd the Canadians would sign on as well.
Both have their reasons. The main one is cost. While Mexico has the soccer infrastructure to host plenty of games, only a handful of its stadiums are up to the standards of FIFA. When the world’s governing body for the sport sweeps into town for a month of bread and circuses, they do so with expectations. They need to fete corporate sponsors. They have to entertain global VIPs. Somewhere on that list is channeling fans into appropriate areas while parting them with their money. A host of ancillary concerns make the presence of a stadium built for soccer a necessary, but not necessarily crucial, part of the process of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.
Putting on a World Cup can run into the billions of dollars. Ask Brazil how that’s working out.
The event will get larger in 2026, driving the cost up even higher. 80 total games in the expanded 48-team World Cup, a 16-game increase over the current format. With 16 groups of three in the first round, it will take a lot of stadiums.
In other words, the ability of Mexico to host a full tournament alone is questionable. The chances Canada could do so are nil. In order for either nation to get in on a World Cup, throwing in their lot with US Soccer is mandatory.
US Soccer is clearly playing all of the cards available, while at the same time doing what’s necessary to calm fears among FIFA leadership. Running soccer in the top economy in the world and home to so many past (and likely, future) corporate partners of FIFA gives the USSF clout to claim primacy in the triumvirate. Throw in the ample available venues at their disposal, and it’s clear why American soccer stands at the forefront of the bid. The USSF knows that the current political situation in the country and the potential for broadening the support base among FIFA nations is reason enough to bring in Canada and Mexico as additional support in the process.
Let’s be clear, however. Just because USSF can doesn’t mean USSF should. Whether or not U.S. officials would prefer to bid alone and only joined up with their CONCACAF neighbors out of political considerations, it’s not necessarily right that they would command so many of the matches. In the aftermath of the bid announcement, soccer figures both north and south of the border expressed their disgust at the split of games. Mexican soccer great Hugo Sanchez said the FMF should have backed out of the agreement. Pundits in Canada lamented their nation’s “table setter” status.
Is there really any doubt that Estadio Azteca, one of the most famous soccer venues in the world, deserves something more than a Round of 16 game?
There’s still the business of competing bids the consider. Morocco is always a possibility. There’s a chance Argentina and Uruguay could join forces to bid. Still, most of the conventional wisdom says that the joint North American bid is nearly a sure thing. FIFA needs to wash away the stink of decades of corruption. The bidding process around the 2018 and 2022 World Cups added a particularly noxious scent to its already sour legacy. Going with a bid that doesn’t involve an authoritarian regime or the creation of whole new cities just to host games makes sense as a course correction.
Gianni Infantino laid the groundwork for this bid with a rhetoric of sharing that has marked the early days of his presidency. Infantino was the force behind expanding the tournament. It makes sense that he’ll be onboard with a joint bid that will share the wealth – at least a little – while still giving FIFA a chance to make as much money as possible.
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