3-way bid seen as front runner

USSF president Sunil Gulati announcing the unified bid of the three nations for the 2026 World Cup at a press conference at the World Trade Center in New York.
USSF president Sunil Gulati announcing the unified bid of the three nations for the 2026 World Cup at a press conference at the World Trade Center in New York.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

US, Canada & Mexico aim to be 2026 World Cup co-hosts in what would be a Fifa first

NEW YORK • The United States, Mexico and Canada on Monday announced a joint bid to stage the 2026 World Cup Finals, aiming to become the first three-way co-hosts in the history of Fifa's showpiece tournament.

US Soccer Federation (USSF) chief Sunil Gulati, who announced the bid in New York with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, insisted they had the full backing of President Donald Trump, despite the US leader's rocky relations with Mexico.

He said 60 of the tournament's matches would be staged in the United States, with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 games each.

The United States would host all knockout games from the quarter-finals onwards, he added.

The joint bid will start as the heavy early favourite in the race despite US prosecutors leading the probe into football corruption, which rocked the sport in 2015 and led to the downfall of former Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter.

A bid from the North America region for 2026 had long been regarded as inevitable by Fifa watchers. That sense of certainty hardened last year, when Fifa's council ruled that neither Europe nor Asia would be eligible to run for the 2026 tournament on the grounds that the regions are hosting the next two World Cup Finals.

Russia is hosting the 2018 edition, followed by Qatar in 2022.

With Europe and Asia ineligible, Concacaf could in theory face potential competition from the Africa, South America and Oceania regional confederations.

Fifa have also voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2026 edition, requiring more facilities to handle the increase to 80 games, while also opening the door to joint bids.

Fifa had been against joint bids since the only time such an approach was tried in 2002, when South Korea and Japan held the month-long event, but the organisation's president Gianni Infantino has been supportive of the idea.

The US, with its many modern stadiums, mainly used by the National Football League, has the capacity to host an expanded tournament alone. But Infantino's opening to multi-national hosting provided a handy political solution for Gulati, who is also a Fifa council member and played a key role in helping Infantino win the Fifa presidency last year.

By bringing Mexico and Canada into the bid, he has eliminated from the process two potential rivals.

There are, however, some potential pitfalls for his effort to achieve what he could not manage in 2010 when a solo US bid was beaten by Qatar. Some in Fifa may be reluctant to let Mexico have a third World Cup, when so many countries have yet to enjoy the tournament even once. Mexico hosted the World Cup Finals in 1970 and 1986.

The United States were hosts in 1994, staging a commercially successful 24-team tournament that played out to packed stadiums. That edition remains the most-attended World Cup in history, with just over 3.5 million fans flocking to its 52 games, an average of 68,991 per match.

Canada, who have made only one World Cup appearance when they were eliminated in the first round of the 1986 Finals, has never hosted the tournament.

Under Fifa plans for its expanded World Cup, Concacaf is awarded six berths. Gulati indicated that officials expected all three host nations to be granted places.

"There has never been a World Cup where the host countries have not been qualified," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline '3-way bid seen as front runner'. Print Edition | Subscribe