U.S.-led 2026 World Cup bid looks strong - FIFA sources
MANAMA, Bahrain -- The United States-led bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to North America looks to be well on track for success, with multiple high-ranking football sources here indicating that this week's vote by the FIFA Congress is expected to go strongly in the bid's favor.
Barring a last-minute change -- which, with global sporting politics, can never be entirely ruled out -- support for the bid's proposal to fast-track the awarding of the World Cup rights appears broad. A victory would bring the world's biggest sporting event back to the United States for the first time since 1994.
With the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 event in Qatar, FIFA's current rules prohibit European or Asian countries from bidding on the 2026 tournament.
South America's confederation is expected to bid for the 2030 event and has supported the North American bid. That leaves Africa, where Morocco was said to be entertaining a challenge but has yet to declare anything publicly.
Normally, a vote on the 2026 bid would not take place for several years, but given the restrictions on possible competitors, the North American bid has proposed that FIFA's Congress essentially draw up a list of specifications that the bid must meet within a certain time frame (guaranteeing stadiums, hotels and government support for security programs, for example), and, if the specifications are met, have the bid simply awarded to North America then and there.
Given the infrastructures of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as their histories of hosting major sporting events, actually meeting the list of specifications is largely a formality.
The Congress, which includes 211 member nations, will vote on the proposal on Thursday. If it passes, the North American bid will have until March of 2018 to meet the technical requirements; the Congress would then formally approve the hosting rights in June of 2018, just before the World Cup begins in Russia.
By all measures, however, Thursday's vote is the one that matters most and is being seen as a de facto awarding of the rights. If it passes, the current understanding is that the United States would host 60 games in the 2026 event while Canada and Mexico would each host 10 games. All the games from the quarterfinals onward would be played in the United States, including the final, as FIFA stages its first 48-team World Cup.
If Thursday's proposal does not pass, the traditional (and significantly more elongated) bidding process would be required.
"It's an interesting, original proposal and we will discuss it tomorrow at the council and present the recommendation to the congress," FIFA President Gianni Infantino told The Associated Press on Monday in Bahrain at the start of a week of FIFA meetings.
"We have seen in the past many questions marks around bidding processes. So we have to make sure we have to make sure this process is absolutely bulletproof."
FIFA's top administrator, Fatma Samoura, highlighted the importance of assessing the "nitty gritty" of the hosting plans, even if the North Americans are given a clear path to the 2026 World Cup.
"What the administration is concerned about is that the bidding process is free, inclusive, and transparent," Samoura said. "We will make sure that the highest level of standards are respected."
Sam Borden is a Global Sports Correspondent for ESPN, also covering soccer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamBorden.