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US-led 2026 World Cup bid nears vote vs. Morocco that's too close to call

May 19,2018 10:43

With the vote to secure the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup taking place on June 13 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow, the United Bid comprised of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. is leaving nothing to chance. The various bid directors and executives ...and more »


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With the vote to secure the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup taking place on June 13 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow, the United Bid comprised of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. is leaving nothing to chance.
The various bid directors and executives have been crisscrossing the globe in the hope of convincing the various member associations that the United Bid is best. For Carlos Cordeiro, the United Bid Committee Board of Directors co-chair, the approach reminds him of his successful run for the presidency of the U.S. Soccer Federation back in February.
"You've got to be in front of every voter," he told ESPN FC via telephone. "There's no substitute for in-person, one-on-one meetings, so that's the strategy. I believe that will produce the result we're looking for."
Based on the technical merits, the bid -- with its tournament-ready stadiums and projections of $11 billion in profits -- would seem to be ahead of Morocco, which will need to invest $16 billion in its infrastructure. But geopolitics have a way of shoehorning their way into a vote such as this one. As a result, the race has become complicated and looks to be too close to call.
There is also the possibility that enough countries will abstain from voting to prevent either bid from reaching the 104-vote threshold needed to win the hosting rights. At that point, the whole bidding process would be reopened with none of the countries currently bidding allowed to compete.
That hasn't stopped the United Bid from projecting a confident veneer as the race heads into the final weeks.
"We're confident because we believe in what we're delivering, and as we travel across the globe, we're telling our story, which we feel is very compelling for 2026," United Bid director and Canada Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli said.
With Morocco likely to draw heavy support from its home continent of Africa, the United Bid has been focusing its efforts primarily on securing its home base in the Americas, while then attempting to extend its reach to Asia and Europe. Although the 10 CONMEBOL countries, as well as the six eligible voters in Central America, have publicly given their support to the Bid, making sure the Caribbean is secure has been a bigger challenge.
Carlos Cordeiro USSF Getty ImagesThe governments of St. Lucia, Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda have all declared support for Morocco. The United Bid has been quick to point out that governments aren't voting -- the football associations are. That fact was echoed by Antigua & Barbuda Football Association president Everton Gonsalves.
"I know the president of the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association is not beholden by what the government thinks," Gonsalves said via telephone.
When asked if he would vote for the United Bid, Gonsalves stopped short of a formal declaration.
"Suffice to say, I'm CONCACAF, so what else can I say?" he said. "I'm part of the confederation of CONCACAF, so you can read into that what you so choose."
The declarations by Caribbean governments should at minimum give the United Bid pause, though they also run the risk of violating FIFA's provision on governmental interference. But the Bid is focused instead on the recent declarations of support from Jamaica and Grenada. The revenues that the United Bid could potentially generate figure to trickle down to smaller football associations such as those that make up much of CONCACAF, so the job of the United Bid is to convince CONCACAF members that the bid is not only technically superior but also financially in their best interest. Whether that will carry the day over government interests remains to be seen.
"I feel very confident that by the end of the day, we will have virtually all of the CONCACAF nations and South America," Cordeiro said.
Beyond the Americas, Asia is a critical piece if the United Bid is to find a path to victory. To that end, the Bid has been very Asia-centric for the past three months, having met with each of the five subgroups within the Asia Football Confederation. Cordeiro feels that having spent part of his life in Asia -- he was born in the Indian city of Bombay, now known as Mumbai -- gives him a way of connecting with the AFC's leaders.
The month of May has seen the United Bid's focus shift to Europe. Bid representatives were in the French city of Lyon earlier this week meeting with European powerbrokers who were already in town for a gathering of the UEFA Professional Football Strategy Committee. Cordeiro and his cohorts soon moved on to Kiev, where the UEFA Executive Committee is meeting ahead of next weekend's UEFA Champions League final.

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U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati is confident that North America's infrastructure will support its World Cup joint bid.

This is not to say that the United Bid is completely giving up on Africa. The vote among CAF countries during the most recent election for FIFA president was fragmented, and the Bid hopes to exploit similar divisions in this vote.
The Donald Trump factor continues to loom large over the vote. The policies of the Trump administration have, at minimum, provided momentum to Morocco's bid. President Trump's vague tweet that suggested retaliation against countries that didn't back the United Bid verges on the kind of governmental interference that FIFA forbids.
That has left the United Bid trying to shift focus to the statements of Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as how the three countries are working together. The Bid also pledged to FIFA that it would grant visas to visitors without regard to religion or national origin.
"Our governments are working incredibly well together in putting this bid together," Montopoli said. "We've been working with the White House and our federal government to ensure that we have the right guarantees in place."
There has been some talk that FIFA will kick Morocco out of the race on the grounds of failing the technical inspection, but the Bid isn't counting on that. Nor is it worrying about abstentions potentially dooming both bids.
"I think the other confederations accept that this was the turn for either CONCACAF or Africa," Cordeiro said. "I think we're all competitors in the most open and fairest sense, and I think it's only fair that they pick one of us or Morocco."

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