“Another day, another million dollars” -FIFA. Last year, thousands rejoiced–myself included–as the FBI busted several FIFA executives in spectacular fashion. The country without a glamorous soccer history, whose professional soccer league is continuously subject to jeers and labeling as a “retirement league”, had done what traditional leading nations in the sport had failed to do.
After such a celebrated and enjoyable process that ousted a number of hated figures from the governing body of soccer, it seems that the United States had learned a thing or two about the inner workings of FIFA, information which it capitalized on. This week the United States, Canada and México launched a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup. A way to a FIFA man’s heart is through his wallet—no?
There are so many things wrong with this bid. The entire premise for this joint bid is to accommodate the expanded World Cup format that will be implemented for 2026. While the expansion itself is a farce, to suggest that the United States needs auxiliary infrastructure in México and Canada to host the tournament is laughable. The United States could easily handle a 48 team tournament–there are dozens of stadiums in the country capable of hosting matches and plenty of pristine training grounds.
Even if the United States were to host a World Cup on their own, the issue of travel would be difficult to address due to the country’s size. If, for example, a team were to have a game in Phoenix, and then another in Columbus, that is a four hour trip and time zone change. For such finely tuned athletes, this can be detrimental to performance, especially with the more compressed group stage. Now imagine traveling into a separate country, like México or Canada, and add the grueling burden of international travel to the already-tired athletes.
What then, could possibly motivate FIFA to subject these players to an exhaustive travel schedule and to higher stakes in group stage play? Perhaps the motivation of not just tapping into the incredibly wealthy consumer market in the United States, but collecting even more in cash flow by including México and Canada. More host countries means increased opportunities to sell more tickets, merchandise, overpriced food and drinks at stadiums and more advertising space in actual stadiums and television channels.
The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) learned from the exploits of the FBI. Following its unsuccessful bid for the 2022 World Cup, the USSF was stuck. There had been an enormous effort dedicated to this bid; even Bill Clinton joined the committee and led the bid. And yet the 2022 World Cup was granted to Qatar. Now, of course, the FBI uncovered facts regarding the systematic bribery that was almost required to be given a World Cup—there is evidence that even German bid officials offered bribes to FIFA which resulted in their hosting of the 2006 tournament.
This bid, however, is clever in the fact that it is in itself some form of a bribe, a packaged guarantee, to FIFA that if the US, México and Canada were to jointly host the 2026 World Cup, the monetary gains would far exceed any underhanded bribes that FIFA would be offered. Sunil Gulati, the president of the USSF, had to realize that this was his hand to play after his rejection in the 2022 bid. Gulati knew that after the FBI had exposed so many corrupt officials in FIFA, including some Americans such as Chuck Blazer, the next bid made by the United States had to be squeaky clean. And by joining forces with the Mexican and Canadian soccer federations, Gulati engineered an offer that FIFA will find extremely difficult to reject.