MOSCOW — A combined bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada won the hosting rights for soccer's 2026 World Cup on Wednesday. The three countries will bring the tournament to North America for the first time since 1994, with the majority of the ...
The 2026 tournament will be one of firsts. It will be the first time the World Cup is hosted by three countries, the first time it has a 48-team format, up from 32 teams, and it was the first time the vote was decided by FIFA’s entire membership. Of the tournament’s 80 matches, 10 will be in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 in the United States — including the final, at MetLife Stadium in the New York City suburb of East Rutherford, N.J.
The last time the men’s World Cup was held in North America was when the United States hosted in 1994. It was held in Mexico in 1970 and 1986. Canada has never hosted. It was unclear Wednesday if all three nations would be granted automatic bids into the field, as is customary for the host nation; FIFA said there had been no final decision on the matter.
North American bid leaders have been on the road since April, visiting voting nations around the globe. Several top officials and bid staff members even relocated to London for most of May, finding it a better base camp from which to visit federations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and southern Africa. At one point two weeks ago, Cordeiro and his staff traveled to Bangkok for a single meeting, returning the next day.
The lobbying — bid leaders estimated they had met 150 of FIFA’s 211 federation presidents face to face — paid off. The North Americans rode to victory on a wave of support from the Americas, Europe and Asia, plus a few votes poached from Africa, whose regional soccer president, Ahmed Ahmed, issued a bombastic plea to his members on Tuesday, urging them to vote for Morocco as a symbol of African unity.
“From a few days ago, we always had a clear path to victory,” Cordeiro said. Still, even he could not have believed some of the support that ended up coming the way of the North Americans, notably a vote from Russia.
After the months of meetings and arm-twisting, the hundreds of airline flights and the weeks in ever-changing hotels, a campaign that began last August when Morocco jumped into the race (on the final day countries could do so), ended in an instant: with a 15-second note and a brief announcement by the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, that the three federations had prevailed.
And just a few hours after Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, welcomed the world to celebrate the 2018 World Cup, the North American soccer leaders took to the same stage to tell the world to celebrate with them in 2026.
The victory spared U.S. Soccer a second stunning defeat in less than a year; the United States men’s team is missing the World Cup this summer, its first absence since 1986. The American federation spent more than $6 million — out of a combined budget of about $8 million — to bring the World Cup back to North America, the culmination of an idea set in motion in a Vancouver restaurant seven years ago, according to Victor Montagliani, the head of Concacaf, the regional governing body.
Here’s how each soccer federation in FIFA voted on Wednesday.
As delegates surged to congratulate the winners, Montagliani took a deep breath to consider the journey that secured soccer’s biggest prize. He said he had conceived the plan while he was Canada’s soccer head, and managed to persuade Sunil Gulati, then the U.S. soccer president, to join in a potential joint offer after Canada staged a successful women’s World Cup in 2015. Gulati, who was replaced by Cordeiro in February after declining to run for re-election, first secured the support of the chairman of the influential Mexican television channel Televisa and finally the Mexican soccer federation.
“I was so nervous sitting up there because you don’t have control over anything,” said Montagliani, who was seated on a raised dais with FIFA’s senior membership as the decision was announced. “It’s like your little baby — but it was a great team effort by everyone involved. There’s nothing quite like the World Cup.”
The North Americans had offered FIFA’s member associations a ready-made World Cup; the 23 stadiums they offered as potential hosts are built, as is most of the infrastructure the expanded 48-team tournament will need: training sites, hotels, airports, rail lines.
And, like Morocco, the North Americans also had the full support of their governments. The nations’ so-called United Bid was a rare topic on which the presidents of the three countries found common cause, and the United States government, including President Trump, had mounted a stealthy shadow campaign to try to win over FIFA and its member federations.
The North American bid’s signature selling point, however, was delivered in a language FIFA members long have understood: revenue. The North Americans promised FIFA an $11 billion profit — a staggering sum that could mean as much as $50 million for each national association.
Morocco, which pledged a profit less than half as large as its rivals, criticized the focus on money over soccer until the bitter end.
“The United Bid is proposing an offer that is mainly a business proposal for football,” one Moroccan official, Moncef Belkhayat, said on Monday. “Their offer is based on dollars, on profit, while Morocco is offering an offer that is based on passion for football, for development of football — not only in Morocco, but also in Africa.”
After the defeat, African officials gathered around their president, Ahmed, as he scanned the list of countries that did not vote for Morocco.
“We are hurting: You look at the countries from your continent that didn’t vote and you have blood Arab countries that supported a different nation, that’s where it hurts more,” said Daniel Amokachi, a Nigerian former soccer player.
Yet there were serious concerns about Morocco’s candidacy from the beginning, notably how the North African nation could cope with the massive undertaking of hosting the first 48-team World Cup. It would have needed to spend billions of dollars to build nine stadiums and to significantly renovate five others, and do it all in eight years — four fewer than the 12 FIFA gave to Qatar, which still has not finished the job of getting ready for the 2022 World Cup.
Then there were the hotels, the highways, the rail links and the facilities to host a tournament set to bring more than 1,100 players and millions of fans to North Africa; all would have needed to be built, at a cost of billions more.
Morocco, which has now lost five efforts to stage the tournament, vowed to press ahead and build the projects it presented to voters. “We managed this bid with a sporting spirit and we will continue our path in the same vein,” said Moulay Hafid Elalamy, its millionaire bid chairman.
The end result was far more emphatic than it may have appeared in the last-gasp votes that played into the early hours of Wednesday morning. At one point, both bid teams arrived at the hotel housing Asian delegates shortly before 1 a.m., as rumors began to spread that the Moroccans might have gained some ground. They were sparked by an announcement by the Netherlands soccer federation that it would back Morocco, contrary to what officials had told the Americans as recently as last week.
The victory will also be celebrated privately by FIFA’s leadership, which had given indications it preferred the surety and likely billions delivered by taking the tournament back to North America. A technical report, which FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, repeatedly told voters to read, scored the winning bid far higher than Morocco’s offer, which FIFA inspectors said had several risk factors. Infantino’s No. 2, Fatma Samoura, issued the same reminder just before voting got underway.
Infantino, who announced his plans to stand for a second term at an election next year, has been on a drive to raise the funds he needs to make good on promises to drastically increase the amount of funding he can deliver to national soccer federations, the only voting constituency in the presidential election.
Cordeiro said the Americans also spoke to members about how a World Cup hosted by the North Americans would lead to a cash windfall for everyone. In Scandinavia last month, he said each federation could get as much as an extra $50 million should the 2026 World Cup meet its $11 billion profit target. “Let that sink in,” he told them.
By Wednesday, it was clear the message had been heard loud and clear.
Correction: June 13, 2018A news alert about the vote to host the tournament gave an incorrect distinction to the winner. It was the first time a joint bid from three countries was selected; it was not the first time any joint bid was selected.
World Cup 2026 (Soccer),International Federation of Association Football (FIFA),Soccer