MOSCOW — The United States, Canada and Mexico were awarded on Wednesday the right to host the 2026 World Cup, returning the world’s most popular sports competition to North America for the first time since 1994.
Over the past year, while disputes between the three countries threatened to derail their effort, U.S. soccer officials formed an alliance with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts that belied the tensions created by President Trump’s hard-line stance on issues such as trade and immigration.
The North American bid defeated Morocco in an unexpected landslide vote by members of FIFA, the sport’s governing body, 134-65. The three countries will begin making plans for an expanded 48-team tournament at 16 venues, the majority of them in the United States. It will be the first time the World Cup is shared by three countries.
“The unity of the three nations coming together was a very powerful message,” said U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro, “and that was something we repeated over and over again.”
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The joint victory was made more striking given that the political relationship between the United States and its longtime allies has grown more tense than it had been in decades. Trump this week withdrew the U.S. endorsement of a Group of Seven economic agreement issued at a summit hosted by Canada, then unleashed a Twitter attack on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump also imposed tariffs late last month on aluminum and steel from Canada and Mexico, sparking retaliatory action.
“There’s irony everywhere” in this decision, said Peter Donnelly, director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto.
Despite the tensions with Canada and Mexico, Trump has been a vocal supporter of the World Cup bid. After the vote, Trump tweeted: “The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations — a great deal of hard work!”
The president did create problems for the bid this spring by threatening FIFA member countries that were planning to support Morocco. The Zurich-based organization did not take any action, but the issue hung over the bid right up to Wednesday’s vote.
Bid organizers did not believe the issue would derail the campaign, and they said they were grateful for the White House’s support. Although Trump will not be in office in 2026, backing from the administration was essential.
Asked if Trump could cause trouble by reneging on commitments, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he is not worried: “I don’t think anyone tries to take over FIFA. FIFA belongs to football and the members of FIFA.”
The outcome soothed the sting of the U.S. defeat to tiny Qatar for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights eight years ago. It also came eight months after one of the lowest moments in U.S. soccer history — the failure of the men’s national team to qualify for this summer’s tournament in Russia, which will begin Thursday.
With the World Cup on the way, the United States is positioned for a blockbuster set of sporting events next decade: the 2026 World Cup, a potential 2027 Women’s World Cup and the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The United States, which last hosted an Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City, had also lost out in bids to host the Summer Olympics in 2012 (New York) and 2016 (Chicago).
Wednesday’s triumph put to rest concerns that Trump’s comments and policies would turn FIFA voters against the U.S.-led effort. What figured to be a close outcome turned out to be a rout. Russia was among the countries supporting the effort, known as the United Bid.
“We were making the case for weeks this should not be about geopolitics,” said Cordeiro, one of three co-chairmen. “This is not a vote in the United Nations. This is a vote of footballing associations. We tried to make the case what was best for the game, what was best for FIFA.”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto released a video statement, saying that the announcement was “a vote of confidence in Mexico’s organizational capacity, in the quality of its infrastructure and the services it offers.”
He added that it was proof that the three host countries were “deeply united.”
Trudeau congratulated the bid sponsors on Twitter and added, “It’s going to be a great tournament.”
Although the national governments didn’t take a leading role in the bid process, White House support was critical to the winning campaign. Without assurances of federal support and the ability of fans from around the world to attend the tournament, the United Bid would’ve confronted severe head winds.
Nonetheless, battling the perception of being a U.S. bid, the campaign diversified its efforts this spring by replacing Sunil Gulati, the lone chairman and outgoing U.S. Soccer Federation president, with three co-chairs. Canada’s Steven Reed and Decio de Maria of Mexico are the others.
Under an agreement reached when the bid was formulated last year, the United States is slated to host 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on. Mexico and Canada will have 10 apiece. However, FIFA has the final say on such matters, leaving the possibility of changes.
Twenty-three cities, including Washington and Baltimore, are in the running to become the 16 match venues. In all likelihood, 11 of the 17 proposed U.S. sites will make the cut. A decision is not expected for another two years.
Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986. Canada has not staged the World Cup.
U.S. soccer officials see the 2026 championship as an opportunity to further grow a sport that has blossomed since the 1994 tournament with the ascent of first- and second-division pro leagues (Major League Soccer and United Soccer League) and a fertile environment for matches and events involving eminent teams from around the world.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about the last few months, if not longer, that bringing the World Cup back to North America would be transformational for the sport,” Cordeiro said. “This is something we feel will more than re-energize the grass roots. … We want to bring a lot more attention to the sport. We want to get the sport to being the preeminent sport after all.”
In 1994, the tournament set attendance records and introduced the sport to generations of Americans.
In making its case to voting members, the North American bid accentuated the quantity and quality of available stadiums, experience in staging major events and the infrastructure necessary to transport and house tens of thousands of visiting fans. They also said they would make an $11 billion profit for FIFA, money that would help nourish federations in need of funding to grow programs and build facilities.
In a final presentation to the assembly Wednesday, representatives pointed out that every region of the world has hosted the tournament since the United States hosted in 1994. To counter concerns about severe travel, the bid said teams would be placed in regional clusters. It also has proposed not one traditional opening match but three (one in each nation).
Morocco has made five unsuccessful bids to host the World Cup. With the tournament expanding by 50 percent, voters were apparently wary of the country handling such a large-scale competition.
The Moroccans were seeking to bring the World Cup to northern Africa for the first time. South Africa staged the 2010 tournament. Morocco seemed to have gained the momentum early this year, but two occurrences damaged its cause down the stretch.
First, North America accelerated its efforts the past four months by sending the three co-chairs on separate lobbying trips around the world. They ended up meeting some 150 national representatives. Next, FIFA’s evaluation task force raised serious doubts about Morocco’s capacity to host the World Cup. On a report issued two weeks ago, Morocco received 2.7 of a possible five points while North America earned four.
Morocco would have had to build several new stadiums and make significant infrastructure improvements.’
Eight years ago, in a race marred by allegations of impropriety, Qatar defeated the United States for the 2022 rights. Years later, in the aftermath of a FIFA corruption scandal that resulted in numerous criminal indictments, the organization introduced reforms and changed the process for choosing the World Cup host. No longer would a 22-member executive committee vote by secret ballot. Now, all eligible national associations cast votes and each ballot is made public.
Without the reforms, U.S. officials said they would not have entered the race.
With three hosts, FIFA will decide whether, as is customary, each country receives an automatic berth in the tournament. The only other time multiple countries shared the World Cup was 2002, when Japan and South Korea were given passes into the competition.
Cordeiro, who was elected USSF president in February, said he anticipates those guidelines will remain in place in 2026. In the expanded competition, the Concacaf region, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean, would still receive three additional slots, decided through the qualifying process.
Kevin Sieff in Mexico City and Alan Freeman in Ottawa contributed.
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