N America seeks approval for fast-tracked 2026 WCup decision

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) An accelerated process to hand North America the 2026 World Cup is set to be approved by soccer leaders this week, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino hoping for a ''bulletproof'' process to avoid past voting scandals.

The United States, Canada, and Mexico are seeking an unchallenged path to co-hosting rights for the 2026 showpiece, if FIFA's technical requirements are met by next year

''It's an interesting, original proposal and we will discuss it tomorrow at the council and present the recommendation to the congress,'' Infantino told The Associated Press on Monday in Bahrain at the start of a week of FIFA meetings.

There is expected to be no opposition to fast-tracking the plans at either the council or the congress, where FIFA's entire 211-strong leadership has the final say.

By avoiding a contest, the process should be resistant to the allegations of wrongdoing that have tainted World Cup votes in recent decades. Past bribery has been exposed, in part, by American prosecutors but the U.S.-led bid is the undisputed favorite for the 2026 World Cup.

''We have seen in the past many questions marks around bidding processes,'' Infantino said. ''So we have to make sure we have to make sure this process is absolutely bulletproof.''

Under plans announced last month, the United States would stage 60 games, including every fixture from the quarterfinals, while Canada and Mexico would have 10 each.

Despite plans to share the tournament, there is a possibility the U.S. emerges as the solo host - like in 1994 - if its neighbors are considered unsuitable by the FIFA Congress in June 2018. The motion being presented to the congress on Thursday states that the North Americans want the hosting rights if ''one or more'' of the countries ''satisfies the technical bid requirements.''

The North Americans are anticipating the go-ahead on Thursday from the FIFA Congress and have a staff and office space lined up, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the bid plans publicly ahead of FIFA's approval.

Once that is given, the neighbors will then press ahead will determining which cities will host games. A possible venue for the final is the 80,000-seat stadium that is being built for the Los Angeles Rams NFL team in Inglewood, California, and is due to open in 2019.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura highlighted the importance of assessing the ''nitty gritty'' of the hosting plans, even if the North Americans are given a clear path to the 2026 World Cup.

''What the administration is concerned about is that the bidding process is free, inclusive, and transparent,'' Samoura said. ''We will make sure that the highest level of standards are respected.''

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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