FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States on Wednesday in Moscow. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Michael Taube, a Canadian syndicated columnist, was a speechwriter for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is a longtime soccer fan. 

On Wednesday, the United States, Mexico and Canada won the right to host the 2026 World Cup. The chance to host the world’s greatest sporting event is a huge moment for North America.

That’s what makes this unique and successful three-way World Cup bid so exciting. Mexico hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cups. The United States did the honors in 1994. For Canada, this will be its first moment in the soccer limelight. But for all three nations, the benefits of co-hosting the 2026 tournament will be immense, from extensive media exposure to travel and tourism.

The next eight years will, therefore, be an important time of growth and development in the North American soccer industry. Mexico already has a solid foundation, but money needs to be earmarked to ensure the less successful American and Canadian programs succeed on the international stage.

Fortunately, time is on North America’s side. All three countries expressed their immediate pleasure after FIFA made the announcement. This includes President Trump, who tweeted “The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations – a great deal of hard work!”

He’s right. There’s a lot of hard work ahead.

Even if some of the leaders are not around for the main event, it’s vitally important that Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto resolve their political and economic disagreements if the tournament is going to be a success.

Relations between the neighbors are at a critical low. There are far too many divisive battles, mainly triggered by the U.S. president. The renegotiation process for the North American Free Trade Agreement is months behind schedule, and only appears to be hanging on by a thread. Trump is using the threat of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, as well as other goods, to force trade concessions.

The controversial border wall with Mexico still hasn’t been built, but Trump is pressuring Congress to give him the funds to fulfill this presidential campaign promise. Trump insists that Mexico will end up paying for it, which prompted Peña Nieto to respond in May via Twitter: “NO. Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever.”

In an effort to alleviate tensions, the United States should forfeit the demand for a sunset clause to renegotiate NAFTA every five years, and Canada could agree to adjust its demand to use the protectionist supply management system for its dairy industry.

No one expects the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments to consistently see eye-to-eye on matters of national importance. Yet there are far too many layers of ice on these frosty relationships.

Critics have depicted FIFA as a “fiefdom” because it operates under a government-like structure — it has a congress, and elects a president. The organization has a vise-grip on the sport, and has faced political and corruption scandals. Nevertheless, it has the final say on where the World Cup will ultimately be held. Last year, there were suggestions that Qatar, host of the 2022 tournament, could be stripped of this honor due to persistent allegations of vote-buying.

Do we really want something similar to happen to the 2026 World Cup, and have North America miss out on a golden opportunity to become a potentially new force in soccer?

The United States, Canada and Mexico must work hard over the next eight years to find a way to coexist, settle their economic differences and make the continent a friendlier environment once more.

The businessman Richard Attias said, “Sport is a great equalizer that can build bridges, transcend borders and cultures, and render even the fiercest conflicts temporarily irrelevant.” Let’s hope the soccer ball can weave a little magic in North American-style politics.

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