NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Organisers of the bid to bring football's World Cup to North America in 2026 offered two eye-catching sweeteners to voters on Tuesday (May 8): a promise of a record US$11 billion (S$14.8 billion) profit for Fifa and a written pledge from the US government that it would grant visas to visitors without regard to religion or national origin.
The latter pledge, which bid officials said was delivered in a letter to Fifa last week, could reassure Fifa members that a travel ban put in place by President Donald Trump would not block some officials or fans from traveling to the tournament.
The Trump administration, through an executive order, has sought to block visitors to the United States from a handful of countries, including five Muslim-majority nations.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month on a third version of the travel ban. A decision is expected by the end of June, the same month Fifa's member associations will vote on the 2026 host.
The United States is bidding in a partnership with Mexico and Canada against Morocco's solo bid. Fifa will pick a winner at its congress in Moscow on June 13, one day before the opening match of the World Cup in Russia.
The promises about record revenues and profits and the reassurances about travel visas were delivered on Tuesday by the three chairmen of the North American bid - US Soccer's president, Carlos Cordeiro; Decio De Maria, the president of Mexico's federation; and Peter Montopoli, the Canadian Soccer Association general secretary - during a presentation at the congress of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) in Brussels.
The projected profit of US$11 billion would be more than double that of any previous tournament, in part because the 2026 event will be the first to include 48 teams and 80 matches, an expansion from the current 32 teams and 64 matches.
De Maria said the US government's assurances that it would allow entry to "all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world" were in line with Fifa's requirements and would not draw distinctions based on race, religion or national origin.
In his prepared remarks, he called them "strong guarantees". But De Maria also noted the pledges were "subject to United States law", which seemed to leave open the possibility that the promises would be limited if the Supreme Court upholds the travel ban. One of the countries on the banned list, Iran, qualified for both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
The revenue figures laid out by Cordeiro during the presentation painted a far rosier picture, and possibly a welcome one inside Fifa, which has lost millions of dollars in sponsorships and millions more in legal costs in the years since a massive corruption scandal rocked the organisation in 2015.
Cordeiro predicted "the most successful and profitable Fifa World Cup ever", with revenues of US$14 billion from a North American tournament and profits for Fifa of nearly US$11 billion, not to mention entree to a market with the kind of sponsors who fled Fifa after the corruption scandal. The revenue projections include more than US$5 billion in television rights fees; US$3.6 billion for sponsorship and licensing; and at least US$2.5 billion in ticket revenue.
All the figures, as well as the prospect of 5.8 million tickets sold, would be records for a World Cup. (Fifa, for example, projects revenue of only US$6.56 billion for the four-year World Cup cycle that includes the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.) But the sums also would be, in Cordeiro's words, "in the best interests of football", producing money that could be reinvested into the game by its members.
"A profit of this magnitude is unprecedented in any single-sport event in the world," Cordeiro said in an interview with AIPS members after the presentation.
"That has to sink in. In terms of value, it could mean US$50 million more per association."
Morocco's bid team, making its own presentation at the AIPS conference, seemed to acknowledge that it could not match the revenue projections of its North American rival.
In its bid, Morocco has played up its outsider status; unlike the United States and Mexico, it has never hosted the World Cup. It also has sought to win support from the many developing nations in Fifa and has needled the North American bid by touting its "very low gun circulation".
"The World Cup is not attributed only on the number of seats you offer in stadiums or on who makes more money," its chief executive, Hicham El Amrani, told AIPS members.
"We will make enough money to make Fifa profitable."