The North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup already was facing robust head winds leading to FIFA’s decision June 13 in Moscow.
Then President Trump tweeted.
One tweet is not going to decide whether the United States/Mexico/Canada defeats Morocco in its efforts to bring soccer’s spectacle to this part of the planet for the first time since 1994. But it’s not going to help the cause, either.
Trump wrote Thursday: “The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”
Let’s deconstruct the tweet.
“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico.”
He is absolutely right. United 2026 offers world-class stadiums (some with fancy retractable roofs!) that are ready at a moment’s notice. Theoretically, an ambitious (and deep-pocketed fan) could attend the opener at Mexico City’s historic Estadio Azteca, a group match on the lovely shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto, a knockout game in soccer-ravenous Seattle and the final at a new palace in Los Angeles.
Unlike Morocco, there would be no need to pour billions into construction projects.
The North American countries have proper training centers, as well as the hotels and infrastructure necessary to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visitors. The 1994 World Cup in the United States remains the best ticket-seller in tournament history. With more matches and growing passion for the sport, the 2026 competition promises to give FIFA what it savors the most: revenue.
Trump should have stopped there, though. But then he wrote: “It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us?”
First, this is not a U.S. bid. It’s a tri-nation bid, though calling it a solo bid is understandable, given the disproportionate number of matches assigned to U.S. venues: 60 of 80. That said, it’s unlikely the president — or anyone outside soccer circles — knows the schedule breakdown.
Mexico and Canada would have loved to stage more games, but Sunil Gulati, the former U.S. Soccer Federation president and original bid chair, said demands by the others for additional games might have prompted the United States to go forward alone. In such a scenario, the others would have been left with almost no chance of winning, if they decided to bid at all.
Fighting the perception that this is a U.S. bid, the North American group last month dropped Gulati as chairman (he remains on the board of directors) and appointed the presidents of the three federations — the USSF’s newly elected Carlos Cordeiro, Canada’s Steven Reed and Mexico’s Decio de Maria — as co-chairs.
Trump’s tweet to his 51.3 million followers, however, reinforced the narrative of a U.S. bid — an unhelpful reminder at a time when world approval of American leadership has plummeted to 30 percent. (His travel ban and incendiary comments about other countries haven’t helped, either.)
The larger issue, though, is the veiled threat of saying it would be a “shame if countries we always support” voted for Morocco. No one likes being bullied.
Furthermore, countries, as in governments, do not vote. National soccer federations do. In some places, there is overlap. However, FIFA stipulates that federations must run independent of government and that overt interference can result in suspension. Last year, Mali and Pakistan were sidelined for such violations.
Separately, Trump’s comments might have violated FIFA’s bid rules of conduct, which state that governments of countries pursuing the World Cup must refrain from activity that “may adversely affect the integrity of the Bidding Process and create an undue influence on the Bidding Process.”
Asked by Reuters about Trump’s tweet, FIFA referred to those guidelines.
Of course, “integrity” has never been one of FIFA’s strong suits, and “undue influence” permeated the governing body for decades. However, since the 2015 corruption scandals related to the selection of Russia and Qatar as the next two World Cup locations, FIFA has introduced reforms. Things are more transparent, if imperfect.
Among the changes: Instead of a 24-member committee choosing the 2026 host, every eligible nation will have an equally weighted vote. Morocco has secured most, if not all of Africa’s 50-plus votes, which gets it about halfway to the majority threshold. France, Belgium and Russia have lent support. If most of Europe goes for Morocco, the North American bid is done.
Another wrinkle: Voting members have the option of selecting neither bid, which, if victorious, would delay selection and open the process to hopefuls from Europe and Asia. (Those continents are currently ineligible because Russia and Qatar are the next two hosts.) One source said that scenario is becoming more realistic as voters sour on North America and carry doubts about Morocco’s capacity to host a 48-team tournament.
About a week ago, before Trump’s tweet, a person with decades of experience in international sports business told The Washington Post, “Are you ready for Morocco?”
A better question might have been, “Are you ready for the World Cup not coming to North America?”
Perhaps now more than ever.