The World Cup is coming back to North America. The USA, Mexico and Canada joint bid defeated Morocco's at the FIFA Congress, earning the right to host the 2026 competition.

By Brian Straus
June 13, 2018

MOSCOW — The United States won’t be competing at this summer’s World Cup, but it has a historic soccer victory to celebrate here in Russia nevertheless. In partnership with Mexico and Canada, the U.S. was awarded the right to host the 2026 World Cup at a vote Wednesday afternoon in Moscow, where FIFA held its annual congress the day before the tournament opener.

The United Bid of the USA, Mexico and Canada handily won the election over Morocco, the only opposition, 134-65, at the Expocentre complex in the western part of the capital. Support from North and South America was almost total (Brazil voted for Morocco). Iran was the only federation to vote “none of the above,” while several others didn’t participate for a variety of reasons.

Each FIFA member had a vote, a procedural change that paved the way for the U.S. Soccer Federation to try again after a solo effort to host the 2022 World Cup lost out controversially to Qatar seven years ago.

The World Cup, which will expand to 48 teams in 2026, returns to the USA (and to Concacaf as a whole) for the first time since 1994. Mexico, meanwhile, technically will become the first nation to stage the tournament three times, having hosted in 1970 (won by Brazil) and 1986 (Argentina). Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015. The latter two countries will have 10 games each in 2026, while the USA gets 60, including all knockout matches from the quarterfinals on.

It’s the second time the World Cup will have more than one host. The 2002 tournament was shared by Japan and South Korea.

THE CUP IS COMING BACK! 🍾🏆⚽️🏆🍾#worldcup2026

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The 1994 event remains the most well-attended World Cup ever staged, despite being contested by only 24 nations (there have been 32 in each of the past five editions). U.S. support for the pro game on a week-in, week-out basis remains inconsistent. But the World Cup is a different animal. The size and quality of American stadiums and the country’s large, multicultural and relatively affluent population effectively guarantees big crowds (and that's before adding Mexico and Canada). That dynamic was a key component of the United Bid, which touted its technical superiority and robust revenue projections in the contest with Morocco.

And it was a contest. U.S. Soccer learned the hard way in 2010 that infrastructure alone doesn’t guarantee success. Numerous factors, alliances, interests and emotions come into play. The plus, this time around, was that the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal led to reforms that dissolved the small but all-powerful Executive Committee, which selected previous World Cup hosts. The challenge was that the vote now was open to every FIFA member.

So that meant politicking on a grand scale. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, Canadian Soccer Association president Steven Reed and Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación president Decio de María traveled the world over the past four months, meeting in person with more than 150 national federation representatives. Cordeiro has been on the road constantly since winning the USSF’s presidential election in February, having decided that the momentum, attention and revenue generated by the build-up to 2026 was worth the political and time commitment.

Those meetings offered the trio the opportunity to tout what they called the “certainty” of the United Bid. FIFA requires World Cup stadiums to seat at least 40,000 spectators. Those under consideration for the semifinals must have 60,000 seats and those hosting the opener or final must have 80,000. The USA alone has more than 130 venues that exceed 40,000. Morocco has six. The latter bid reportedly would’ve required more than $15 billion in investment on stadiums and infrastructure, while the USA, Canada and Mexico essentially are ready to go.

In 2010, Executive Committee members ignored the USA’s technical attributes. The emphasis on their importance this time, plus the aforementioned voting reforms, was critical, according to FIFA Council member and former USSF president Sunil Gulati.

“One thing that hugely changed the momentum [was] the technical report,” Gulati told SI.com after Wednesday’s vote. “[FIFA] went out of their way to give scores, to have text around it, so that, to me, was important. People read it and it got summarized two minutes before the vote. … We would only [bid] again if the rules changed. And the four rules I specifically mentioned were: the technical report had to have teeth; no visits by voters to countries because they needed to see if the trains ran; a complete clampdown on gifts and development projects; and a public vote. And all four of those happened.”

The United Bid proposed a World Cup hosted in 16 markets (selected from a current shortlist of 23), with the final contested in New Jersey, Los Angeles or Dallas. And it forecast revenue of $14.3 billion, almost twice the figure presented by Morocco. For FIFA, an organization that lost significant sponsorship income as a result of the 2015 scandal and indictments, those United Bid projections proved tantalizing.

The USA/Mexico/Canada bid got a further boost, as Gulati mentioned, with the June 1 publication of FIFA’s technical evaluation and report. Morocco’s bid was declared “high risk" on three fronts—stadium, accommodation and transport. Inspectors wrote, “The amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated. … The Morocco 2026 bid and United 2026 bid represent two almost opposite ends of the spectrum."

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But there were reasons United Bid executives campaigned so hard and expected the vote to be close. Continental or regional loyalty, proximity and time zone, and more manageable scale were among the qualities promoted by the bid and its supporters. Another concern for the North Americans was the rhetoric and potentially divisive immigration policy of Donald Trump. Although he won’t be president in 2026, there were questions in some quarters about whether the USA would be considered a welcoming and inclusive host. In April, Trump tweeted, “The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations).”

If that tone seemed provocative, Trump attempted to allay concerns behind the scenes, with a series of letters addressed to bid officials that included a promise that "all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination,” and that the competition would be staged in an “open and festive manner.”

Cordeiro said in a post-vote news conference that U.S. political support was robust and bipartisan, and that the assurances regarding visas for players, administrators and fans were “crucial." Overall, however, he said voters’ self-interest trumped “geopolitics.”

“This was not a vote in the United Nations,” Cordeiro said. “We tried to make the case for what is best for the game. What’s best for FIFA? We talked a lot about … where [World Cup revenues] go. How do you actually impact the grassroots? How do you bring more kids into the game? Ultimately, a lot of that needs resources.”

He continued, “I’m absolutely convinced that for the vast majority of voters, [Trump and U.S. politics] was not the issue. We got votes today from countries that aren’t always aligned with us on most issues. People focused on … what was in their best interest. These were football associations, all of whom have budgets and challenges like we do. At the end of the day, they depend on FIFA [subsidies] and programs that need money.”

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Another way the United Bid appealed to potential voters, Cordeiro said, was by re-introducing the co-hosting concept. There aren’t many countries that could handle an 80-game, 48-team tournament. Demonstrating that different federations can come together, build a bid and win the vote now opens the World Cup door to other regions and potential partners across the planet.

“They could also dream of hosting a World Cup,” Cordeiro said of FIFA voters. “That will be the legacy for the future.”

That message of unity and potential was a key part of the United Bid’s presentation ahead of Wednesday’s vote. It opened with Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada midfielder Alphonso Davies, a 17-year-old, Ghana-born winger who said, “The people in North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they’ll welcome you.”

Speaking to the congress, Cordeiro then promoted the scale of the bid, saying, “With an expected 5.8 million tickets sold, the world’s largest sponsorship market and match times for every time zone in the world, we expect record profits for FIFA of $11 billion. In other words, it will be our honor to host the most extraordinary World Cup ever."

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The tournament would “inspire a new generation of players and fans,” Cordeiro continued, “which would also give a tremendous boost to the global game. Around the world, it means more funds for programs…to develop football across all our countries.”

Morocco’s presentation, led by bid chairman Moulay Hafid Elalamy, touted its location, culture, ease of intra-country travel, public support, modular stadiums and a promised $5 billion profit.

In the end, the United Bid message proved far more attractive. The margin of victory was considerably larger than anticipated.

"I don’t think we ever thought we would have such overwhelming support,” Reed said. “We were very humble in terms of our view of the campaign. We were obviously hopeful and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from many federations, but it shows that the amount of work that we did over the past year–and in particular over the past 6-8 weeks–has come to fruition.”

The 2026 World Cup could be the beginning of an unprecedented era of international sporting competition in the USA. The U.S. Soccer Federation also is interested in staging the 2027 Women’s World Cup (it also hosted in 1999 and 2003), and the Summer Olympics are set for Los Angeles in 2028.

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