World Cup 2026 vote another hurdle for Donald Trump’s foreign policy
The vote to host the 2026 World Cup looms as the next foreign policy hurdle for US President Donald Trump.
In a week where Mr Trump has been at odds with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau over trade tariffs, the nations — along with southern neighbour Mexico — will have to present a joint front to try and win over the FIFA Congress at the vote in Moscow tomorrow morning (Australian time).
The three countries have formed a bid known as United 2026, which promises dozens of world-class stadiums, reliable transport hubs and plenty of tourist attractions and hotels — not to mention an expected $11 billion profit for FIFA.
Up against the North Americans is Morocco, which announced its candidacy with a two-sentence statement on the due date last August, and expects to spend $21 billion to build or renovate all 14 stadiums and upgrade tourist and medical facilities.
Both bids passed a recent FIFA inspection, but Morocco scored 2.7 out of five and was rated "high risk" in three areas, while the US-led bid earned four out of five and earned much more favourable reviews.
While the decision seems like a no-brainer, a new voting format in which 207 of the 211 member nations (host nominees are excluded) means geopolitics, FIFA's inherent self-interest and popularity will come into play.
What has Trump got to do with football?
Mr Trump has publicly thrown his support behind the US-led bid, while also issuing veiled threats against countries which might go against it — even though governments should have nothing to do with the voting.
"The US has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup," Trump tweeted in April.
"It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the US bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don't support us (including at the United Nations)?"
External Link: US President Donald Trump tweet: "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 dont support us (including at the United Nations)?"
That tweet earned a rebuke from FIFA, who highlighted the organisation's ethics rules, which "contain an explicit warning against activities by bidding country governments which may adversely affect the integrity of the bidding process and create an undue influence on the bidding process".
But Mr Trump was at it again a few days later, publicly catching Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari off-guard at a press conference in the Rose Garden, asking for the support of African nations and saying the US Government would be "watching very closely".
Despite the collapse of the relationship between Mr Trump and Mr Trudeau, and the US President's commitment to build a wall on the border with Mexico, the leaders of the nations have been united in trying to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time in 24 years.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said sport is one thing that brings the countries together.
"We can have differences but football unites us. Together we support the candidacy of Mexico, Canada and USA as the headquarters of the World Cup 2026," Mr Nieto wrote on Twitter.
Mr Trump's domestic policies could also come into play, and form part of the "medium risk" designation given by FIFA to the United 2026 bid — even though the US President should be out of office.
Iran was the second nation to qualify for Russia 2018, behind Brazil, but finds itself on the list of six countries on Mr Trump's travel ban list.
Iraq, winners of the Asian Cup in 2007, and Syria, who Australia defeated at the last stage in the Asian qualifying rounds, are also on that list.
The Trump administration has responded to these concerns by confirming to FIFA that "all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination".
You also can't forget the impact of January's "shithole" countries comment, which was in reference to countries in Africa and Central America.
Mr Trump's lack of popularity around the world has seen US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro come out and ask football federations to forget about politics when making their choice.
"The question of who will host in 2026 has at times become mixed with geopolitics," Cordeiro added.
"We are asking that we be judged, not on the politics of the moment, but on the merits of our bid."
FIFA president Gianni Mr Infantino has not commented on Mr Trump's canvassing for votes, but said he hopes federations will have the sport in their best interest, whichever side they vote for.
"I hope when they vote they think what is best for football, definitely not on other subjective criteria that they might have for themselves," he said.
What other factors are involved?
If there is one thing we know about football and FIFA, it's that self-interest rules.
FIFA was left with serious corruption concerns after the vote in 2010, when the 22-member executive committee (ExCo) decided Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 would host the showpiece events.
To improve transparency, Mr Infantino announced all nations (excluding the hosts) would receive one vote each, with these being made public after the winner is announced.
The sheer weight of numbers now makes Africa and Europe the biggest players.
The Moroccan city of Tangier is just 14 kilometres across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain and the country is in the same time zone as continental Europe, the World Cup's biggest market, making it a kind of "Clayton's bid" for Europe — the World Cup you have when you're not having a tournament in Europe.
Africa counts for 56 members of FIFA (bid nations are unable to vote) and Europe for 55, putting it over the 104 votes required to win the event if everyone was to vote with Morocco — although disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has warned that not all of Africa will vote together.
External Link: Sepp Blatter tweet: "World Cup 2026: Co-Hosting rejected by FIFA after 2002 (also applied in 2010 and 2018). And now: Morocco would be the logical host! And it is time for Africa again! #Fifa #CAF #@FIFAWorldCup"
South America (10 members) and North and Central America (41), Asia (47) and Oceania (14) make up the rest of the voting.
Combined, Africa and Europe will account for more than half — 16 European teams and nine African teams — of the nations that will play in the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026, making time zones and travel convenience a major benefit for Morocco.
For European broadcasters hoping to capture a prime time audience, a 7pm kick-off in Los Angeles coming in at 4am in Paris, Madrid and Berlin, would not be ideal.
Mr Blatter has also warned against joint bids, saying the combined hosting in Japan and South Korea in 2002 was a "logistical nightmare".
United 2026 offers ready-made world-class facilities
The joint bid between the United States, Canada and Mexico is one of the most impressive in recent history, and its football federations have worked together closely.
External Link: United 2026 tweet – "Next up, a tour of one of the most sustainable sports venues in the world – @MBStadium. Located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, it was the first professional sports stadium rated LEED Platinum in the US #FIFATour2026 #Unity2026 #Certainty2026 #Opportunity2026"
It would be a perfect follow-up for FIFA after the cost blowouts and white elephant stadiums which plagued the tournaments in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 and the allegations of corruption and human rights breaches surrounding Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.
Heavily on United 2026's side is preparedness and certainty — the nations boast they could host the World Cup next week.
The USA has pitched to host 60 of the 80 matches at the expanded 48-team tournament, with Mexico and Canada holding 10 each.
The World Cup requires host nations have 40,000-seater stadiums for group games, and grounds which can accommodate at least 80,000 for the opening match and final.
The North American bid has floated 23 potential host cities and in all but one of these, Toronto, the stadium infrastructure already exists thanks to American football, as well as Mexico's rich football history.
Also in the United bid corner is history, with the USA 1994 tournament still the most attended, even after the event expanded to 32-teams in 1998.
Mexico has twice previously hosted the World Cup, showcasing the greatest ever players Pele and Maradona in 1970 and 1986 respectively, while Canada's hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup was a major success.
The United bid is reportedly preferred by Mr Infantino and hundreds of millions of dollars in television bonuses await FIFA if its members choose to host there in eight years time.
Morocco will need to spend billions
As the sole bidder for much of last year, the United 2026 bid was urging FIFA to speed up the selection process when serial bidder Morocco threw its hat into the ring hours before the August 11 deadline.
The brief statement announcing their candidacy seemed to come on a whim, with the bid organisation having no logo or website, and it took four months to announce a chairman.
But they have pulled together since then and their bid is not as ridiculous as at first glance.
This is the North African nation's fifth bid for the world event, having previously applied in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010, and they are promoting convenience as their major advantage under the mantra "one time zone, one currency" while also highlighting that the longest distance between host cities is 1,000km, or a maximum 75-minute flight.
The big knock on Morocco is costs, even with the bid's chief executive Hicham El Amrani telling the BBC that "without a doubt" they can deliver.
Morocco's organising committee said it expects to spend $21 billion to host the event, in a country which has a nominal GDP of $179 billion.
The North African nation has announced 14 stadiums and only five of them currently exist — and even those will require renovating.
To avoid creating white elephant stadiums, the North African bid has promised to build six "legacy modular stadiums", which share a "common architectural design" for ease of construction and can be reduced by 25,000 seats after the tournament.
The FIFA task force judged the Morocco bid as "high risk" in terms of stadiums, accommodation and transport.
But Morocco does have history in hosting football events.
They successfully hosted the Club World Cup events in 2013 and 2014, and the African Nations Championship in January this year.
The nation's footballers have also qualified for Russia, while the USA and Canada both missed out.
But aside from infrastructure concerns, the bid neglected to mention Moroccan laws which imprison homosexuals, which flies in the face of FIFA's new anti-discrimination laws (although those same regulations don't seem to apply to Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022).
Some European nations have already thrown their support behind Morocco, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Serbia and Russia.