The cat is out of the bag.
CONCACAF member nations United States, Canada and Mexico will make a “historic announcement” on Monday in New York City to unveil plans to bid for the 2026 World Cup and play games across North America. Saturday’s news confirmed what Victor Montagliani, the president of CONCACAF and the Canadian Soccer Association, had said earlier in the week about a joint U.S.-Canadian-Mexican World Cup bid.
“Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are aiming for a joint bid,” Montagliani said. “The idea has been around for a while, discussions are continuing and it is a very exciting proposition if it comes to fruition.”
“We have had nothing but positive remarks about it and it is a very strong sign of what football can do to bring countries together,” he added.
The latter remark alludes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, but we’ll get to that.
Montagliani argued that all three countries would be capable of bidding on their own – even though the 2026 World Cup will be the first that’s expanded to 48 teams and 80 games, up from 32 and 64 – but that a joint bid makes sense. The deadline to submit a bid is December 2018. FIFA will spend the following year or so evaluating the bids, with a decision scheduled to be taken in May 2020.
The United States had been the favorite in its bid for the 2022 World Cup, but controversially lost the voting to Qatar in 2010 in a round of bidding that is thought to have been rife with corruption and vote-trading. Although FIFA, now largely under new leadership, insists that Qatar will be allowed to keep its seemingly ill-gotten World Cup, there is lingering doubt that it will really be played there in five years.
If Qatar, for whatever reason, is stripped of the World Cup, the U.S. is one of the best-positioned nations to take its place on short notice.
But, barring that, CONCACAF – the North and Central American governing body, which also includes the Caribbean and a few South American countries – is believed to be due for an edition of the world’s most popular sports event, which rotates between the continents.
Given the success of the 1994 World Cup, held stateside and still the record-holder for highest total attendance in the tournament’s history, and the abundance of appropriate infrastructure here, the U.S. was considered the favorite to host a second tournament. This notion was only reinforced through the good performance of the one-off Copa America Centenario in 2016, held at short notice because of the rolling and roiling FIFA scandals.
The USA’s primary rivalry was always going to be Mexico – which hosted in 1970 and 1986, when the tournament was moved from Colombia late on in the process because of political unrest – and Canada, which has never hosted.
Elsewhere in the world, there have also been rumblings about bids from Australia and New Zealand, Azerbaijan and Turkey – both in joint bids) – England, Kazakhstan and Colombia. None are believed to have huge odds of success, though.
With the U.S. teaming up with its neighbors to the north and south, it appears the CONCACAF nations would be a lock for the 2026 hosting rights. Not just because the continent is due and the bid would include all three of the potential hosts. But also because it’s a great arrangement for handling the crush of extra games and added teams, all of whom will require state-of-the-art training facilities and accommodations.
Unlike his disgraced predecessor Sepp Blatter, current FIFA president Gianni Infantino supports joint bids and so, apparently, does the FIFA Council.
By spreading the love across CONCACAF’s three biggest countries, FIFA would send a strong message in the assignment of its first World Cup since the bribery scandals, which revolved largely around CONCACAF principals and events (as well as South American ones) and was set off by the FBI and Department of Justice. CONCACAF, it would hope to convey, is clean and worthy again, FIFA is healed and the World Cup is in safe hands.
Certainly, to include the U.S. in a bid – and likely assign it the majority of games – would minimize the chance for the sort of construction delays and headaches that have marred the South Africa and Brazil World Cups and have been a thorn in the side of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And in a time when citizens are increasingly concerned about the enormous burden of hosting mega-events on the national budget, it doesn’t hurt to pick a country that would have minimal building to do, if any at all.
Then there’s the political angle. To say that a tournament in 2026 would help assuage anxiety over a wall proposed by a president taking office in 2017 – and leaving it, at the latest, in 2025 – is a leap. But, it’s true, whatever the state of relations between the three countries at that time, a joint World Cup would project unity, even though these sorts of exercises can be a logistical nightmare for the people tasked with executing it.
While a joint bid means the U.S. will likely lose some premier games – although probably retain the final, because FIFA still cares about money – joining forces with the other strong bids in the area mitigates the risk of not getting to host at all. Most of all, it seems to head off the possibility of nasty surprises.
Like when the U.S. bid for the 2022 World Cup.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.