Only once have multiple countries shared the quadrennial festival, and Japan and South Korea did so in 2002 under an 11th-hour agreement approved by FIFA, the sport’s international governing body.
The three neighboring nations seeking the ’26 tournament — let’s call it the NAFTA World Cup — will pursue the event in the spirit of cooperation and regional brotherhood in a time of tightening borders and frayed diplomacy.
If successful, the most popular sporting event on the planet would return to the United States for the first time since record-setting crowds witnessed the competition in 1994. It would mark the return to Mexico after 40 years and the first plunge into Canada, which successfully ran the 2015 Women’s World Cup and an under-20 men’s World Cup.
The United States sought the 2022 World Cup by itself, but amid FIFA’s corruption scandal, lost out to Qatar, the tiny-but-wealthy Middle Eastern bidder.
FIFA will not select the 2026 site — or, perhaps in this case, sites — until May 2020, but the North American tri-bid will enter the race as the clear favorite.
Europe and Asia are prohibited from hosting because they will have staged the previous two tournaments (Russia 2018, Qatar 2022), a restriction removing potential formidable bids from England and China, among others, from the mix.
South America held the World Cup in 2014 (Brazil), and no African countries have indicated plans to bid.
With an abundance of venues and a history of hosting large-scale sporting events, the United States could pull it off on its own — even one that will expand to 48 teams (from 32) in 2026 and require 80 matches instead of 64 over four to five weeks.
U.S. officials have suggested strengthening the bid by locking arms with Mexico and Canada. Such an effort would also head off any potential showdown with a solo Mexican bid. (Mexico hosted the World Cup in 1970 and ’86.)
The European Championship, second to the World Cup in popularity, has had multiple hosts three times, albeit in small, neighboring countries: Belgium-Netherlands in 2000, Austria-Switzerland in ’08 and Ukraine-Poland in 2012. The 2020 tournament will span the continent, using 13 cities in 13 countries.
The joint 2002 World Cup created logistical headaches, prompting FIFA to question whether to consider multiple hosts again.
While on the surface, the three-nation World Cup bid would meet FIFA’s facility and infrastructure needs, organizers will have to address many issues.
Would the countries agree to divide the locations of premier matches? Perhaps a U.S.-Mexico tug of war over the final at Los Angeles’s new NFL stadium or Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, which has hosted two World Cup title games?
Would the United States carry a larger share of the budgetary burden proportioned to the presumed greater number of games?
Would FIFA be willing to award three automatic berths, including one to Canada, which in all likelihood, will not have qualified for the tournament since 1986? That would leave only half of the six proposed automatic slots for CONCACAF (which incorporates North and Central America and the Caribbean) available to the others.
Canada has desirable cities, but only one major location (Toronto’s MLS stadium) sports natural grass. Use of artificial turf for all Women’s World Cup matches there two years ago did not sit well with the players. Such turf has never been used in a men’s World Cup.
Would the Trump administration back a large-scale effort requiring government cooperation and resources?
And in this political climate, would the White House be open to an event attracting tens of thousands of spectators — not only from many of the other 47 participating countries, but from all corners of the globe — and allowing them to potentially cross borders multiple times during the summer spectacle?
If Trump were to win reelection in 2020, his second term would end before the World Cup arrived. However, organizers would need his support in formulating and pitching the bid over the next three years.
They, as well as FIFA, would also need assurances from the administration that players, staffs and fans would be able to gain entry without undue burden. If FIFA is satisfied, it would then have to coordinate visa and customs policies and other legal specifics for three sovereign countries.
Organizers are expected to address these questions, and many more, when the 2026 campaign begins Monday in earnest.