CONCACAF to ask FIFA to fast-track U.S.-led 2026 World Cup bid -- sources
Historically, securing the right to host a World Cup has been a long, arduous process that involves significant travel, countless pitch meetings and numerous presentations -- not to mention a lot of money -- spread over a period of several years.
When it comes to the United States-led bid for the 2026 World Cup, however, a result might come much sooner -- perhaps even by the end of this year.
Lost amid the pageantry of Monday's glossy announcement of the bid by the U.S., Mexico and Canada was any significant discussion about what steps the bid will take next, and according to multiple high-ranking officials, regional body CONCACAF is planning to make a proposal at May's FIFA Congress that could accelerate the entire process, which would normally be expected to last until 2020.
In the proposal, which is included as an item on the Congress agenda that has already been sent to member associations, the CONCACAF bid will ask the world governing body's 211 members for a unique, noncompetitive window -- for example, six months -- in which it would prepare a report that showcases the technical specifications of its bid, covering everything from stadium capacities and infrastructure to hotels and transportation.
If the bid were to meet the required technical specifications set out by FIFA -- which would certainly be expected from countries that frequently host big sporting events -- then it would simply be awarded right then. If not, the traditional bidding process would begin.
From FIFA's perspective, the upside to such a plan is clear: Because there are so many questions regarding how the first 48-team tournament is going to work, determining a host early -- and having one with relatively few concerns about operations going smoothly -- is preferable simply because it removes a layer of issues.
Timing is also a factor. With the Russia World Cup in 2018 and a FIFA presidential election in 2019, there is some concern that not voting on the 2026 World Cup bid until 2020's Congress might leave too compressed a window before the event is played.
The downside, of course, is the lack of a full, competitive bidding process, something FIFA, in the aftermath of multiple corruption investigations and the dirtied 2010 vote that led to Russia and Qatar winning the next two World Cup hosting bids, would likely prefer from a public perception standpoint. Then again, those bids were awarded by FIFA's tainted executive committee, while this proposal -- as well as the full bid vote, if it goes that far -- will be considered by the entire FIFA congress.
Bid officials are still taking the temperatures of the FIFA member nations regarding the proposal, though there is no denying that the CONCACAF bid as a whole is the prohibitive favorite to win the hosting rights.
CONCACAF is the only major confederation not to host a World Cup since 1994, and by FIFA rule, Asia and Europe are prohibited from bidding for the 2026 event, which means that Africa -- which hosted the event in 2010 in South Africa -- is likely the only confederation that could mount a challenge.
Still, the support for the CONCACAF bid is strong, both inside and outside the sport. South America's confederation has already made known that it is in favor of the North American bid for 2026, and Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer president, said at Monday's event that the United States government was fully behind the joint bid, adding that President Donald Trump was "especially pleased" that Mexico was involved.
The hope, of course, is that highlighting that reality will put any member nation concerned about how the political climate in the United States might affect the World Cup -- whether related to entry visas or a proposed wall between the United States and Mexico -- at ease. Gulati said he did not speak directly to Trump about the bid, but there was "substantive dialogue" with government officials in recent weeks, and it was clear Trump was "fully supportive."
The other tricky part of creating the bid was the negotiations between the countries. Gulati highlighted the work of Carlos Cordeiro, the U.S. Soccer vice president and a longtime counselor who was recently elected to the CONCACAF council, in making it clear that while the bid is obviously led by the U.S., it is, in reality, a regional bid that all of North America, Central America and the Caribbean is behind.
"It's important for everyone to understand that we're stronger if we are doing this together," Cordeiro said.
Although there has been some consternation among Mexican fans regarding the distribution of games at the World Cup -- of the 80 games, 60 will take place in the United States, with 10 apiece for Mexico and Canada, none of them beyond the round of 16 -- the brutal truth of the situation was apparent.
The United States was fully prepared to submit a solo bid and, by all indications, had a very strong chance to win the rights on its own. Faced with the possibility of losing out entirely, sources said Mexico (and to a far lesser extent, Canada) had to calculate whether it was worth running an expensive opposing bid, which very likely would fail, instead of joining forces.
"The United States doesn't need us to host a World Cup," Mexican federation president Decio de Maria told Televisa. "That is the message. On Day 1, we didn't have a single game. Today, [we have] 10."
Sam Borden is a Global Sports Correspondent for ESPN, also covering soccer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamBorden.