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How politics could block the US from hosting the 2026 World Cup

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FIFA voters face a tough decision as the United States’ political landscape continues to shift

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Political Satire Dominates Rose Monday Carnival Parades Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

On Monday the United States, Canada, and Mexico announced their bid to host the World Cup in 2026. Now comes the hard part: winning the vote to hold the tournament. The three countries have a strong case to host the event. For one thing, the World Cup has not been held in North America since 1994, while between then and 2026 Europe will have hosted the event three times, Asia twice, Africa once, and South America once.

For another, Mexico, Canada, and the US have the infrastructure already in place to play the games. Strengthening the nations’ case is the fact that FIFA President Gianni Infantino partly owes his election to US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, who rallied votes for him. President Donald Trump, a high school soccer player as pointed out in a Fox Sports puff piece, is in favor of the World Cup coming back to the US. Despite this, there is a big orange elephant in the room that may block the bid: politics.

Shifting US international reputation

FIFA has not been shy about voicing its displeasure about the policies that the Trump administration has proposed, especially those about travel. Obviously the World Cup in 2026 will be after Trump’s presidential term, but that does not mean he will not be re-elected in 2020 or that the political situation will change in the United States by ‘26. Republicans have supported the travel ban and the proposed wall on the Mexico-US border helped propel Trump to the Oval Office. Court cases and funding debates may curtail these policies, but they aren’t going away.

Recent international developments may also play a role in determining if the joint bid is accepted. On Friday, Trump ordered the US Navy to fire more than fifty cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after a poison gas attack on Syrian civilians. The Navy also dispatched an aircraft carrier battle group to patrol near North Korea.

The US justified bombing Syria citing human rights grounds, a claim that was decried by the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations as a hypocritical cover for the US to promote a type of woke imperialism. Despite the controversy, the action was popular in the United States among the media and both political parties which illustrates that there is little deterring future presidents from taking similar actions.

Recent military actions and saber rattling puts the US in the same company as World Cup host nation Russia, which similarly justified its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula as protecting human rights. Despite these claims, the invasion created tension between Russia and FIFA leading UEFA to sanction the country. FIFA voters will have to weigh increasing US militarism while considering if they want to award the 2026 World Cup to another country that is acting belligerently on the international stage.

In addition, concerns have been raised about state surveillance and treatment of journalists who travel to the World Cup in Russia. The Trump administration itself has not been shy about its disdain of the media and freedom of speech. Human rights groups have put pressure on FIFA to move the 2018 World Cup due to Russian crackdowns on freedom of speech and human rights violations and may set their sights on the US if it cracks down on reporters.

Other foreign policy actions may also jeopardize the success of the joint bid. As president and while campaigning, Donald Trump insulted several national leaders and the populations of entire countries. This includes issuing German Chancellor Angela Merkel an invoice for NATO ‘protection,’ insulting Mexican immigrants, saying China was ‘raping’ the United States, and even managing to cause an international incident with Australia. Some FIFA voters may express their displeasure with the US by voting against the bid to host the world’s biggest sporting event.

Strange bidfellows

The three nations will submit their bid despite the political tensions between Mexico and the US mentioned above and those between Canada and the US. While USSF is seeking a joint bid partly in response to the negative press about politics in the US, the bid is creating a strange alliance among the US and Mexico. Canada needs to submit a joint bid because it quite simply does not have the resources and number of stadiums needed to host the tournament.

Mexico is another issue. It successfully hosted the 1986 games and could have bid to be the sole host but elected to join the US and Canada. While the joint bid is intended to dampen the impact of political conflicts for FIFA voters, it could backfire and create more problems. Discussing the fact that the US will host 60 games with Mexico and Canada being home to 10 each, Mexican Football Federation President Decio de María reportedly quipped that, “yes it’s going to be 10 games in MEX but also games in LA, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix. For us it’s home.”

Furthermore, Mexican fans may feel alienated by the bid which could create more bad press and turn voters away from approving it. The Guardian reported that some Mexican fans have even called on their federation to pull out of the bid and noted that, “the plans for Mexico to host just 10 out of 80 games and none from the quarter-finals onwards have come as a shock and another slap in the face to many Mexicans.”

The rancor over the proposal could explain why CONCACAF is asking for FIFA to vote on the bid this year. As Russia and Qatar have shown, no matter how much controversy a nation may cause, once a World Cup is awarded, FIFA is almost guaranteed not to revoke the tournament unless a security situation arises to make it unsafe.

Most Americans are fairly insular in their world view and may not realize how divisive these actions, statements, and acts of war are in the eyes of the rest of the world. FIFA is becoming increasingly conscious of its image and Gianni Infantino was elected on a platform of reform. After receiving so much criticism for awarding the World Cup to Russia and Qatar, FIFA voters may feel that awarding another World Cup to a country with a dubious human rights record is not the best way to signal that the organization is serious about change.