A three-country bid by Canada, Mexico, and the United States for the 2026 World Cup could be in jeopardy. The North American bid, long seen as the favorite, could lose to Morocco.
FIFA is no stranger to controversial World Cup hosts. Russia will host this year's World Cup, and Qatar, which doesn't exactly have the climate to support a summer soccer tournament and is building much of its infrastructure with forced labor, will host in 2022.
North America has plenty of infrastructure, the appropriate climate, and existing World Cup-ready stadiums all over the continent. Giving the 2026 bid to the three-country group seemed like the most logical choice.
And yet, according to a new report by ESPN, there is a very real chance that North America loses out on its bid to Morocco. From Sam Borden:
Support for the United States-led bid to host the 2026 World Cup is more divided than most predicted, with some estimates of voting totals having Morocco not just threatening the North American bid but actually beating it, multiple high-ranking football executives within FIFA and the continental confederations told ESPN this week.
The trickier question for the North American bid is actually something remarkably basic: At this particular moment in time, does the world want to give something nice to the United States?
There are a few issues for the United States here. One, which Borden touches on, is the United States-led investigation into widespread FIFA corruption. That led to the ouster of longtime president Sepp Blatter in 2015. He is unsurprisingly supporting the Moroccan bid.
Another mark against North America's 2026 World Cup bid is not sports-centric, but could be just as impactful: policies enacted by President Donald Trump's administration.
According to Borden, Morocco is expected to have the support of much of Africa, Asia, and South America. That could get its bid over the goal line.
One official who is in regular contact with all of the continental confederations estimated that Morocco has the support of much of Asia and South America, as well as its home continent of Africa, which would put it over the 104 votes needed. All four bid nations cannot vote while the Guatemalan federation is currently suspended.
Trump's policies are specifically cited as one reason why the North American bid could fail. It should be noted that even if Trump wins reelection in 2020, he would be out of office by the time this World Cup rolls around.
More recently, however, the North American bid has had to counter an anti-American sentiment that stems largely from actions taken by President Donald Trump's administration, multiple sources said. Those actions include a travel ban affecting mostly Arab countries, public comments that perpetuate stereotypes and the reported use of profanity in describing poorer countries.
When North American bid officials visit with federation officials in a foreign country, they rarely get questions about stadiums or hotels, according to sources; rather, they have been quizzed about whether the United States can be considered a friendly place for foreigners.
The United States last hosted the men's World Cup in 1994. Missing out on 2026 after having what looked like a slam-dunk bid would be a huge blow to American soccer.