Yes, it was a historic moment when the U.S., Mexico and Canada came together to announce for the first-time in history they wanted a FIFA World Cup to be hosted by three nations, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from the announcement in New York City on Monday was that the U.S. would host 60 of the 80 games at a potential 2026 World Cup hosted in North America.
60 of the 80.
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That’s 75 percent of the entire tournament in the U.S. plus the entire tournament from the quarterfinal stage onwards (so, the World Cup final would also be played in the USA) would be hosted Stateside.
Unsurprisingly the reaction to these details has seen mixed responses in Canada and Mexico, two nations which, like the U.S., is capable of hosting a World Cup on its own.
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With Mexico and Canada each getting just 10 games, and many of those likely to be group games, would a fairer split have been 40 games in the USA and 20 each in Mexico and Canada? The president of Mexico’s soccer federation, Decio de Maria, says those numbers aren’t set in stone but if Mexico and Canada only get 10 games each in the 2026 World Cup, is there much point of them being part of this joint bid?
There has been talk that due to concerns from FIFA over travel bans in the U.S. and recent policies brought in by President Trump, the U.S. bidding alone would’ve been met with concern. Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, mentioned Trump in his announcement and the fact that he encouraged the bid with Mexico. There is plenty of politics to all of this too.
Of course, the CONCACAF region as a whole would benefit from this tournament and with U.S, Mexico and Canada all seeking automatic qualification as hosts, the potential for more CONCACAF teams to qualify for the tournament is positive. The plan is for six CONCACAF teams to gain automatic qualification to a 48-team World Cup in 2026, and how the expanded World Cup will work will be ratified at the next FIFA congress in Bahrain on May 11. Does that mean six CONCACAF teams, plus the three hosts, would all qualify?
Those are the kind of kinks which will be worked out in the coming months and only when this joint bid is successful will we get a better idea of how it will be structured for qualifying purposes.
What are the chances of the three nations winning this bid? Gulati, who is leading the bid, fancies his chances of the winning. Given the fact that new FIFA president Gianni Infantino owes Gulati a great debt for helping him be appointed the new president of FIFA, that confidence is well placed.
And with no other candidates put forward so far to host the monster tournament — there’s talk of a potential bid from South America with Colombia, Peru and Ecuador interested, plus the CAF federation (Africa) is able to bid for the tournament — it is being reported that the North American bid is putting pressure on FIFA to bring the bidding process forward two years early and wants a decision to be made as early as 2018 at the FIFA congress in Moscow.
Whatever happens in that process, let’s analyze how we have come to see three nations standing together as hosts.
The U.S. knew it would’ve been the clear favorite to host the tournament among Canada and Mexico if all three nations had made separate bids. Yes, Mexico (who’ve already hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cup) could’ve easily bid for the tournament and has many stadiums which could host games and the infrastructure, while Canada would need a few more stadiums built to get up to FIFA standards but not much else would be needed.
With all of that in mind, the U.S. had the chips staked in its favor and left Gulati and U.S. Soccer’s directors in a very powerful bargaining position. Yes, the U.S. could’ve gone alone to host this but with a token gesture of allowing Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each they’re looking like good neighbors and also spreading the wealth which comes with hosting a World Cup.
Yet it still feels like the U.S. could’ve done more to make this a truly continental World Cup. Perhaps a semifinal played in each of Canada and Mexico, then the final played in the U.S. or maybe even the final played at the Azteca which is a true soccer cathedral. It seems a little insulting that a huge soccer nation like Mexico, one that has already hosted its own World Cup twice, gets a few group games and then a handful of knockout games out of the deal.
Read the newspapers in Mexico today. Reaction to this announcement has not been kind but of course there is still room for some bargaining and with this World Cup over nine years away things could change and Mexico may be handed some more games.
Here’s the key though.
During the announcement Gulati spoke many times about this being the best economical tournament in history. That’s probably true as a few stadium upgrades would be needed but you could host a World Cup in the USA next week if you needed to. The sponsorship, income from fans and other spin-offs would all be straight cash for FIFA.
There lies the reason why the U.S. is the main host for this tournament. Commercially it has the biggest stadiums in the biggest cities and it is able to generate huge incomes. Just look at the crowds at any of the International Champions Cup games or the Copa Americe Centenario in the U.S. last summer. The vast majority for the big games were sold out with crowds of over 45,000 for most matches and some high profile affairs saw over 100,000 fans turn up.
Also, don’t forget that the 1994 World Cup in the USA still holds the record for the best attended World Cup in history.
That is the real reason why the U.S. has taken
the largest slice of the pie pretty much the whole pie and FIFA will gladly gobble it up with a dollop of ice cream from both Mexico and Canada to wash it down.
With only here is no way that this bid will lose.