U.S., Mexico, Canada bid to host 2026 World Cup: What you need to know
On Monday in New York City, federation presidents Sunil Gulati, Decio de Maria and Victor Montagliani made it official: The United States, Mexico and Canada will submit a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. What do we know beyond that? Here's a guide.
The U.S. could host the World Cup on its own. So why do a joint bid?
It's true, the U.S. could host a World Cup tomorrow -- even with an expanded 48-team format -- but there are reasons to go this route. Each of the three countries wants to host the tournament solo, but, even if the U.S. had a chance better than 50-50 of going it alone, it still makes some sense to join forces to focus energies on bringing the tournament back to the CONCACAF region for the first time since the U.S. hosted in 1994.
With the decision being made by FIFA's membership, the organization's 24-person executive committee did the selecting in previous votes, and the CONCACAF region has 35 votes. So, the thinking within the organization is that it's better for the confederation to get fully behind one bid than for it to be fractured among three separate ones.
From a CONCACAF perspective, there is also the thought about how a joint bid would benefit the entire region, and not just a single country. That is a message that has been pushed by CONCACAF president Montagliani, who not coincidentally is president of the Canadian Soccer Association.
How much did the current political climate impact the decision to bid jointly?
Geopolitical considerations always have an impact on a World Cup bid. That was as true when the U.S. lost out on hosting in 2022, during Barack Obama's presidency, as it is now that Donald Trump is president.
Without question, though, the proposals of the Trump Administration -- from building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to the travel ban on citizens of several countries -- are a negative, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino has already said as much. The hope is that a joint bid will take the edge off any negative sentiments.
The U.S. Soccer Federation will undoubtedly need help from government to get this done, and president Sunil Gulati stated on Monday that discussions with the White House have already taken place, adding that there is broad support for the bid.
"We have the full support from the U.S. government for this project," said Gulati. "The president of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid. He is especially pleased that Mexico is part of this bid, and it's in the last few days that we've gotten further encouragement on that."
Has a World Cup ever been co-hosted?
Japan and South Korea were joint hosts in 2002, and, though the tournament generally went off without any major glitches, FIFA's thinking was to never go that route again. President Sepp Blatter said that having two host nations required twice as much effort in terms of organizing, which led to twice as much cost.
Obviously, there would be some major logistical hurdles to clear -- more on that below -- but that doesn't seem to be stopping CONCACAF from going forward in its efforts to bring the 2026 tournament to the region.
So this bid is the big favorite to win, correct?
Absolutely. Both Mexico and the U.S. have hosted men's World Cups before, while Canada hosted the 2015 Women's World Cup. Collectively, there is a great deal of institutional knowledge possessed by the three countries in terms of staging major sporting events.
Further, there would be very little infrastructure improvements required. That, given the expansion of the tournament to 48 teams in nine years' time, is a major consideration. The size of the potential stadia in all three countries would no doubt result in a smashing of the total and average attendance records, set during the U.S.-hosted 1994 tournament.
"Given what has happened in the last few World Cups and some of the Olympics Games, the thought of building sports facilities that don't have a long-term use isn't one that's particularly inviting for anyone," said Gulati. "In all of our cases, we have stadiums that exist for professional teams or other events. We think that's a huge advantage, not just for us, but for FIFA."
Nothing is a slam dunk in the world of FIFA and, in particular, when it comes to World Cup bids, but the competition appears to be minimal at the moment. Countries from Europe and Asia are forbidden from bidding for 2026, since Russia will host next year and Qatar has the 2022 tournament.
So far, only Morocco has shown interest among African countries, while Colombia has stated its intent to bid. Neither country, though, could provide the infrastructure and economic benefits of the combined CONCACAF bid.
What do we know about the timeline?
The deadline for bid submissions is December 2018, after which evaluation will take place over the following 15 months. The final decision will be made in May 2020.
If the joint bid is chosen, how will the matches be divided?
Gulati said that the proposal which, keep in mind, still has to be approved by FIFA, will see the U.S. host 60 of the 80 games; Mexico and Canada will host 10 each. As things currently stand, all of the games from the quarterfinals onward would be hosted in the U.S., as well.
If that seems like scant return for Mexico and Canada agreeing to co-host the event, well, it is, especially in the eyes of Mexico. We'll see what FIFA has to say about this proposed arrangement.
What about the venues?
Little to no detail was provided about the venues on Monday, though Gulati noted that the three countries had a combined 40 to 50 stadia that meet FIFA requirements, and that he would generally be in favor of "more venues, not less." Montagliani added that all previous men's World Cups have been played on grass and that he "would assume this would be the same."
What are potential negatives of the bid?
For all the complaints about travel distances in Brazil, a joint World Cup involving the U.S., Canada and Mexico could potentially be even worse. Organizers would try to mitigate the distance that teams and fans must cover, but there is no denying the geographic area the three countries comprise is vast.
"What you do is group things properly," said Gulati, who hinted that some of the qualifying groups might be regionalized, with Vancouver and Seattle as an example, before adding there would be "obviously some transcontinental travel, but shouldn't be an issue."
Then there are the organizational challenges. With three countries involved, there will no doubt be disagreements in terms of how to organize the tournament. How will these be rectified? Who has the ultimate say? It is FIFA's event, but, if it continually has to play referee, that could affect things running efficiently or effectively.
"The division of labor, the division of expenses -- between the three of us, as well as with FIFA -- is a model that has not been developed yet," said Gulati on Monday.
Security is a further concern. That is true of every World Cup, but managing visa and travel processes, in terms of who can attend and who cannot across three different countries, has the potential to cause logistical concerns.
Didn't Gulati say the U.S. wouldn't bid until the rules were specified by FIFA?
After the U.S. controversially lost out to Qatar for 2022, Gulati stated more than once that the USSF wouldn't be involved in bidding until it knows the rules. They won't be officially spelled out until the next FIFA Congress, to be held next month in Bahrain, but Gulati has a close relationship with Infantino and sounded confident at Monday's announcement that things would be different this time.
"The process has to be better, the process has to be transparent, the process has to be public, the process has to include technical standards. All of those things are now part of the process," said Gulati. "This will be a vote that's public. This will be a technical process that is part of the bid process formally. And if someone cannot meet the technical standards, as the IOC has had for many years and FIFA has not, they will be excluded from it. Those are very specific and strong statements from the FIFA regulations."
What will all this mean for World Cup qualifying ahead of 2026?
FIFA has said that, given the expanded format, CONCACAF's allocation of World Cup spots would move up to six. However, if this bid is successful, it remains to be seen how many of those would be taken up by the hosts. Every World Cup home nation to date has been granted automatic qualification and Montagliani reiterated his stance that this precedent should continue.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.