US, Mexico and Canada win joint bid for 2026 World Cup
By STEVEN GOFF | The Washington Post | Published: June 13, 2018
MOSCOW — The World Cup is returning to the United States, and this time, Mexico and Canada are along for the wild ride.
A North American joint bid won the rights Wednesday to host the 2026 edition of the celebrated soccer tournament, defeating Morocco and bouncing back from an unfathomable U.S. defeat to Qatar in voting for the 2022 event eight years ago.
The member associations in FIFA, the sport's governing body, favored the North American effort, known as the United Bid, in a landslide vote, 134-65.
Thus, 32 years after setting World Cup attendance records in hosting the 1994 competition, the United States will join forces with its neighbors to organize a championship that, in 2026, will expand to 48 teams from 32. Mexico hosted the World Cup in 1970 and '86. Canada is involved for the first time.
It will mark the first time three countries have shared the planet's most popular sporting event.
In an agreement announced when the bid launched last year, the United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on, while Mexico and Canada will get 10 apiece. 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.
Wednesday's vote, conducted during the FIFA Congress at Moscow's expo center, provided a much-needed victory for American soccer, which is in the process of rebuilding the men's program in the wake of last fall's failure to qualify for this summer's World Cup in Russia. With the Americans absent for the first time since 1986, the tournament will begin Thursday in Moscow with Russia facing Saudi Arabia.
The bid victory will also stack the U.S. sports landscape with major competitions in perhaps three consecutive years. Besides the 2026 World Cup, the U.S. Soccer Federation is tentatively planning to bid for the 2027 Women's World Cup and Los Angeles is set to host the 2028 Olympic Games.
U.S. soccer officials see the 2026 championship as an opportunity to further grow a sport that has blossomed since the '94 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.
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).
The bid received assurances from the White House that, despite tighter immigration measures proposed by the Trump administration, fans from all parts of the world with proper documentation would be able to attend the tournament. USSF President Carlos Cordeiro has praised the president for supporting the bid.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a Trump supporter, is honorary chairman of the United Bid and served as a middleman in gaining White House backing of the World Cup effort. Kraft's Gillette Stadium, home to the Patriots and MLS's New England Revolution, becomes a favorite to host 2026 matches.
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-chairmen - Cordeiro, Canada's Steven Reed and Mexico's Decio de Maria - 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 U.S. 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, plus one team in an international playoff.
Canada would benefit the most from getting an automatic bid, considering it has not successfully qualified on its own since 1986. Mexico and the United States have each appeared in seven of the past eight World Cups.
Mexican venues under consideration are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Canada narrowed its list to Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.
The U.S. metro areas in the running are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Denver (Sports Authority Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and the new NFL stadium), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Jose (Levi's Stadium), Seattle (Century Link Field) and Washington (FedEx Field).
The Rose Bowl and Camping World Stadium were venues in 1994. Matches in Washington that summer were played at RFK Stadium.
FIFA, in consultation with the local organizing committee, will make the final venue decisions.
Two notable absences, Chicago and Vancouver, did not agree to FIFA's requirements for hosting games and withdrew from consideration.