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Sunil Gulati: Perceptions of U.S. affecting 2026 World Cup bid

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.

PHILADELPHIA -- Outgoing U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati stressed that winning the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup "will be a tough battle," and that he's concerned external political forces could adversely affect the bid.

The U.S. is engaged in a joint bid with Canada and Mexico to win the hosting rights, and Gulati will remain chairman of the United Bid Committee Board of Directors despite leaving his role with U.S. Soccer.

The joint bid is considered a heavy favorite to win given the superior stadiums and tourism infrastructure that the three countries have compared to Morocco, the lone competitor.

But Gulati acknowledged there is much more to winning the bid than those aforementioned attributes.

"This is not only about our stadiums and our hotels and all that," he said on Thursday during a public forum hosted by Fox broadcaster Alexi Lalas at the United Soccer Coaches convention.

"It's about perceptions of America, and it's a difficult time in the world. So there's only certain things we can control. We can't control what happens at the 38th parallel in Korea, we can't control what happens with embassies in Tel Aviv, and we can't control what happens with climate change accords.

"We do the best we can. We have the support of Washington."

Unlike past World Cup hosting rights contests, which were decided by FIFA's Executive Council, the entire voting membership will decide in June which bid will prevail.

"We have to go out and convince what eventually will be 104 voters to vote for us," Gulati said. "We would like to get a few extra to not make it a one-vote swing. But this won't be easy."

Gulati's 12-year run as USSF president will end on Feb. 10, when the USSF's National Council will vote to determine his successor. But with just weeks remaining in his term, his focus is now on winning the bid.

"I'm spending 90 percent of waking hours on [the bid] at this point," he said.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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