When the United States, Mexico, and Canada’s United Bid won the rights to host the 2026 World Cup last week, there was a ton of excitement all across North America that the world’s biggest tournament was returning to these shores. The 23 cities under consideration to become host venues also welcomed the general enthusiasm among fans about securing the bid. However, thoughts quickly shifted to this question: will all 3 nations automatically qualify for the World Cup as the host nations?
Before now, that question was an easy yes. The nations that hosted the World Cup received automatic bids to the tournament. Even the only World Cup that had multiple hosts - 2002 in Japan and South Korea - both teams ultimately received automatic qualification. Now, people are wondering whether 3 teams are too many to receive automatic bids to the 2026 World Cup and, if so, which teams should have to qualify.
FIFA would be establishing a dangerous precedent if they start making all or some hosts to qualify for a World Cup that they are hosting. There’s also the politics of who would get automatic qualification and who would have to play for it. Take Canada, for example. Canada has only qualified for one World Cup in its history, placing last among 24 teams in 1986.
Mexico is a nation that is passionate about soccer and has hosted two World Cups previously. You would think that they would get an automatic bid. Then, there’s the United States, who will host the vast majority of the matches in 2026 and have the money and the clout behind the bid. Still, politics would make a vote on the U.S. tricky.
Then, there’s the optics of having a World Cup where the hosts didn’t qualify. Does FIFA really want to risk that? How much more money would the tournament make with all 3 hosts in it? More importantly for FIFA, how much money would they lose if one or two of the hosts were not in it?
On CONCACAF’s side, the U.S. and Mexico are considered to be the cash cows of the region, drawing the biggest gates no matter where they play. CONCACAF teams may not want to give up their possible home dates with both teams or will want assurances that they can get some sort of financial windfall to replace what they would make with a USMNT or Mexico coming to town.
In the end, FIFA needs to do the right thing and let the USMNT, Mexico and Canada have automatic spots in the 2026 World Cup. There’s no reason not to do it...it’s not like the tournament won’t have the room. Remember, in 2026 the World Cup will expand to 48 teams, with the host nation(s) spots coming out of that confederation’s allotment.
CONCACAF is projected to have 6.5 spots among the field of 48. Even if 3 go to the United States, Mexico, and Canada, that still leaves 3.5 spots for the remainder of CONCACAF. That is the same amount of spots the confederation has now for 32 teams. So, this would mean that CONCACAF would not even have to alter its World Cup qualification process, leaving the famous Hexagonal round in place.
2026 seems like a whole eternity away, but it’s only 8 years down the road. Decisions now about the automatic qualification will help set the calendar for the 3 teams for the next two qualifying cycles. With the Gold Cup, CONCACAF Nations League, and possible inclusion in future Copa America tournaments, FIFA would do right by announcing the 3 teams’ automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup now. This way, those teams can get to work and fans will know exactly what they face in terms of matches before they walk out on the field to open the biggest World Cup ever.