You already know the news: The U.S. announced on Monday it was bidding to host World Cup 2026 in a shared bid with neighbors Mexico and Canada. The U.S. would stage 60 of the 80 games, with Mexico and Canada getting 10 each, and the U.S. would have every game from the quarterfinals onward.
But you probably have questions, and we have answers. Let’s break down the key aspects of the joint North American bid:
Q: Why does the U.S. want to host World Cup 2026?
A: This one is easy. U.S. soccer has grown by leaps and bounds since hosting World Cup 1994, but hosting another men’s World Cup in 2026 would boost the popularity of soccer in the U.S. by another order of magnitude. Having a U.S. team that could potentially go deep in that tournament with home support wouldn’t hurt, either.
Q: Why would FIFA want to bring the men’s World Cup back to the U.S.?
A: FIFA still wants to see the sport of soccer grow in this country. But beyond that, after all the controversy surrounding the awarding of World Cup 2018 (to Russia) and 2022 (to Qatar), FIFA needs a controversy-free World Cup bidding process that would make the organization a ton of money. In the wake of the FIFA scandal, FIFA announced last week that it lost $369 million in 2016. FIFA’s only significant money-maker is the men’s World Cup. The 1994 World Cup in the U.S. is still the record-holder for the most tickets sold at a World Cup (despite having only 24 teams in that tournament), and a 48-team World Cup held mostly in the U.S. would set economic records for the tournament that would last a long, long time.
Q: Why would the U.S. want to share the hosting rights for World Cup ’26 with Mexico and Canada instead of hosting it alone?
A: Judging by Mexico and Canada accepting only 10 games each, it’s clear that the U.S. could have landed this World Cup on its own. But including Mexico and Canada reveals a willingness to show the three countries can cooperate, and it will please FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who wants to see shared World Cup bids for the new 48-team tournament. Sharing with Mexico and Canada will also help when it comes to getting votes from the 211 FIFA member nations who will vote on who gets to host World Cup ’26. In fact, it makes the North American bid essentially a slam dunk, which brings us to ….
Q: Who is the North American bid competing against?
A: The FIFA Council announced last October that no countries in Europe and Asia would be able to bid to host World Cup 2026 after hosting the tournaments in 2018 and ’22, respectively. That prevents potential rivals like China, Australia (which is part of the Asian confederation) and any European nation from competing against the North American bid. South America seems pointed toward a joint Argentina-Uruguay bid for 2030 (the 100th anniversary of the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay). That leaves Africa. There have been rumblings that Morocco might bid, potentially sharing with Ivory Coast. But staging a 48-team World Cup in those countries would provide a lot of obstacles that FIFA likely won’t want to deal with.
Q: Where does President Trump fit into all this?
A: U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made a point on Monday of saying that Trump supports the joint bid and is especially pleased about cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on the bid. The main concern that FIFA has about the Trump administration—and the general political tides in the U.S.—is that FIFA wants assurances that all its teams will be allowed into the country that’s hosting the event. That includes, say, Iran, a World Cup regular that was on the list of Muslim-majority countries that were part of Trump’s proposed travel ban. Yes, it’s true that Trump won’t be the president in 2026, but FIFA demands to be 100% assured that political winds in the U.S. at that time—whoever is in charge—will allow every country to be a part of that World Cup.
Q: What are Mexico and Canada getting out of this sharing arrangement considering 10 games isn't a lot (especially for Mexico)?
A: Well, Canada will likely get an automatic bid, which is no small thing for a nation that has qualified for only one men's World Cup in its history. As for Mexico, it came down to choosing between hosting 10 games and zero games. The U.S. could have simply walked away from Mexico completely, and the Mexicans knew that.
Q: What comes next?
A: The North American World Cup bid has requested the chance to get approval at next month’s FIFA Congress to attempt to fast-track its 2026 bid during a 10-month period without any competition from other potential bids. The idea would be to have the FIFA Congress give final approval in June 2018 (instead of the previously planned May 2020) to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada World Cup for 2026. In theory, that could prevent a costly campaigning process and give transparency to the vote while giving the U.S. and its partners even more time to prepare for the tournament. The question is whether FIFA member nations will want to avoid a competitive bid process—and if another credible bid will step up.