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Infantino backs transfer-market reform

FIFA
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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

U.S.-led bid touts 'risk-averse' World Cup amid political backlash

U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati is confident that North America's infrastructure will support its World Cup joint bid.
ESPN's Sam Borden chats with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati about the U.S.-led 2026 World Cup bid.

The United States-led bid for the 2026 World Cup is hoping the "economic certainty" it offers global football will outweigh any concerns about negative perceptions of America's foreign policies.

The United Bid Committee is trying to bring the World Cup to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2026, but its leadership was pressed in London on Tuesday about the effect recent inflammatory remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump will have on FIFA voters when they select the hosts in June.

Trump reportedly used a vulgar term to describe African and Latin American countries during a White House meeting on immigration this month, leading to concerns about an international backlash that could push voters to favor a rival bid from Morocco, which only formally launched its bid on Tuesday.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, Canada's representative in the bid committee, tweeted his support to El Salvador and Haiti on Jan. 12, but when asked by reporters on Tuesday if he also "condemned" Trump's remarks, he simply restated his support.

On whether an anti-Trump effect could see the bid defeated, 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."

Sitting alongside, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who last week admitted political forces could adversely affect the bid, said: "We can't control the politics. It will change over time. And we have got all the assurances we need from all three governments to support the bid in all areas that are important to FIFA."

Gulati said 70,000 pages of contracts are currently being signed. As well as requiring tax exemptions on FIFA activities in the host nations, the governing body will also demand by March assurances of visa-free access to the tournament. That could run into conflict with Trump's hard-line immigration stance, including a ban on travel to the U.S. by residents of six majority-Muslim countries, which is being challenged in the courts.

"We have had complete support from the White House on our bid and the government guarantees we need," Gulati said. "Any participants in the World Cup will have access to the country."

As for visiting fans, Gulati stressed that "subject to security checks they will be allowed to participate."

Gulati said it had not yet been decided whether to use Trump in its final pitch, after former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama featured in previous American bids.

The United Bid Committee is trying to bring the World Cup to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2026.

The U.S. is partnering with Mexico on the World Cup just as Trump also presses ahead with construction of a border wall between the neighbors.

"In terms of the famous wall, I think football is stronger than that," Mexican federation president Decio De Maria said. "We are working together to have this event. It's not the wall that's going to be part of this bid. It's football."

The United States is the majority partner in the 2026 bid, with 60 games including everything from the quarterfinals onward, while Canada and Mexico have 10 fixtures each. But Gulati said those numbers were not set in stone.

"Might it change? Sure, it is possible," Gulati said when asked if the junior partners might gain more matches.

FIFA has scrapped the tainted system where a small group of officials decided the host and expanded the vote to the entire membership of 211 nations. While many countries have little chance of qualifying, they still have a stake in ensuring the World Cup is profitable, Gulati pointed out.

"FIFA's finances are heavily dependent on one event -- the men's World Cup," said Gulati, who is also a member of the FIFA Council. "So there is a direct line between funding for programs around the world and what happens at the World Cup and the revenue generated."

With 48 finalists to accommodate, the 2026 World Cup is loaded with unprecedented risks for FIFA, just when it needs to be certain of turning a big profit after losing sponsors over corruption scandals.

"We think part of our case is the certainty we can provide for a first-ever expanded World Cup," Gulati said. "Being risk averse both to members and to FIFA is part of our story.

"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."

With barely four months until FIFA votes, Morocco finally got around to launching its bid on Tuesday. There's now a campaign logo and social presence but still few details of how the North African nation will stage the first World Cup after the leap from 32 to 48 teams.

Morocco, whose previous failed World Cup campaigns have been implicated in bribery investigations, is touting the upside of the ambiguity surrounding its latest bid.

"We may surprise many people with our strong infrastructure and commercial offering," Moroccan federation president Fouzi Lekjaa said in a statement, "and we will highlight our wonderful welcome, host cities and stunning locations. It promises to be a truly special bid."

Information from The Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.

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