United bid for 2026 World Cup hopes economics will offset anti-Trump sentiment
With fears growing that Donald Trump’s words may open the door for Morocco, the “united bid” is promising bumper revenues and no white elephants.
The United States-led bid for the 2026 World Cup is hoping the “economic certainty” it offers the global football family will trump any possible concerns about America’s current leadership.
That was the message from “the united bid” when its three leaders – US Soccer Federation president and bid chairman Sunil Gulati, Mexican FA boss Decio de Maria and Canada’s CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani – visited London on Tuesday en route to the campaign’s first big lobbying opportunity, the UEFA Nations League draw in Lausanne.
The joint pitch has been the strong favourite since the three countries confirmed their bid last April, particularly as 2026 follows what Gulati described as two “not easy” World Cups in Russia and Qatar and will be the first to involve 48 teams, up from the current 32.
The fact the trio’s only rival is Morocco – a country that has made four losing bids already and is yet to announce any details about its fifth attempt, beyond revealing its bid logo and committee this week – has only added to the sense this is a done deal.
In the footballing community we understand that diversity of experience and background provides strength to the team. The @CONCACAF family stands alongside those in and from Haiti, El Salvador and around the world, in reminding that all are welcome on the field. #UNITY https://t.co/f5yAseLzBJ— Victor Montagliani (@VicMontagliani) January 12, 2018
However, American bids have been favourites for international sports events before and lost, and there is growing concern within the three countries that an international backlash to US President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric could open the door for Morocco.
Issues such as Trump’s proposed wall on the US/Mexico border, travel restrictions on certain Muslim-majority countries, his opposition to the Paris climate agreement and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem have been deeply unpopular abroad.
But perhaps even more damaging were Trump’s inflammatory comments about immigrants from developing countries including El Salvador and Haiti, two members of the football confederation run by Montagliani.
The former Canadian FA boss tweeted his support to those countries on January 12 but when asked by reporters on Tuesday if he also “condemned” the remarks, he simply restated his support.
On whether an anti-Trump effect could see the bid defeated at FIFA’s annual congress in Moscow on June 13, Montagliani said: “When we started thinking about bidding, years ago, there was certain political environment, there is one right now and there’ll be one in 2026.
“From a bid point of view, it’s been about football and it will always be about football.”
Gulati said the bid had received all the government assurances it needed and any guarantees FIFA wants, in terms of free entry for “participants” or tax breaks, would be put in writing when the bid is submitted on March 26.
When asked if the bid would use Trump in its final pitch, as former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have featured in previous American bids, Gulati said that had not yet been decided.
In regard to “the famous wall”, De Maria added “football is stronger than that”.
For him and his colleagues, the conversation they want to be having is about economics.
All three spoke about the “purchasing power” of their combined population of 500million, while Gulati pointed out the fact that the biggest World Cup in terms of tickets sold is still the 1994 tournament held in America’s giant NFL stadiums.
With FIFA’s finances understood to be stretched by the fallout from corruption scandals, a decline in sponsorship and increased payments to member associations, football needs a blockbuster World Cup in 2026.
“We think a part of our case is the certainty we can provide for a first ever expanded World Cup, so it’s risk-averse for both the members and FIFA,” said Gulati – like Montagliani, a FIFA Council member.
“But it’s also one of unity and keeping these three countries in the international community, in a way that is tied together. We think between that and the certainty we can provide to FIFA’s central piece of revenue, it is a compelling case.”