It has been a year of increased political tension between the United States, Mexico and Canada – but in eight years’ time the three countries will unite to host one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles.
At a FIFA association member vote in Moscow Wednesday, the joint North American bid won the right to host the 2026 World Cup, comfortably beating rivals Morocco in the vote.
It will be the first time the World Cup will be shared by three host nations, but since the unified bid was announced in April 2017 political relationships between the US and its proposed co-hosts have been touchy at times.
US President Donald Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “meek and mild” in a tweet over a tariff dispute following a G7 meeting earlier in June, while tariffs imposed on Mexico along with plans for a border wall have also ruffled feathers south of the border.
Soon after the result was announced, Trump tweeted: “The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations - a great deal of hard work!”
The United Bid promises to bring all three nations closer together for what will be the largest edition of the tournament to date – 48 countries will compete – and the most lucrative. The North American bid’s revenue forecast was $14.3 billion, with a record profit of $11 billion for FIFA, the sport’s governing body.
“Hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup is a rare and important moment to demonstrate that we are all truly united through sport,” said Carlos Cordeiro, President of US Soccer and Co-Chair of the United Bid, in Moscow.
The last time the US hosted a men’s World Cup was in 1994, and Mexico in 1986. Canada has never previously hosted World Cup matches, though it has staged a women’s World Cup.
Russia votes for North American bid
The vote, in which all FIFA associations were, for the first time, eligible to vote for the host, was cast at the 68th FIFA Congress on the eve of the 2018 edition of the tournament, which begins Thursday.
The United Bid won by a 134-65 margin, with one vote for “neither” host. Seven federations – the four bidding nations along with three US dependent territories – recused themselves.
After the controversial award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively, FIFA promised a “more open and transparent” vote this time.
Previous hosts had been decided by the FIFA Executive committee, now known as the FIFA Council.
Russia voted for the North American bid, as did South Africa – the only African nation to host a World Cup.
Football powerhouses Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and France backed the losing bid, as did China, while Iran was the country that voted for “neither,” while Spain, Slovenia and Cuba abstained.
Under the North America proposal, 60 of the tournament’s matches will be held in the US, including everything from the quarterfinals onwards, while Mexico and Canada will host 10 games each.
As well as trade tensions, there had also been worries that President Trump’s travel ban blocking immigration from several Muslim-majority countries – which is being challenged in the US Supreme Court – could affect fans, officials and players.
However, Trump has promised FIFA that foreign teams, officials and fans will be able to travel to the US.
The United bid shared with CNN Sport a letter sent to FIFA in March by the US government which said it “intends to issue visas, subject to eligibility under U.S. law, without regard to race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, disability, wealth, birth or any other status, or sexual orientation.”
The statement said that the bid organizers were confident that “every eligible fan and member of our FIFA family will have unhindered access to our country to experience and celebrate the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”
And despite political differences, the World Cup bid has given the US, Canada and Mexico a common cause, with the North American bid having received the full support of their governments.
Indeed, Trump courted controversy in April with comments made about the vote.
“The US has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” Trump tweeted.
“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 don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”
The tweet caused FIFA to direct attention to the organization’s ethics rules governing the bid process and “to the Bid Rules of Conduct incorporated therein,” a spokesman said.
The outcome of the vote had been expected, despite a tightening of the race in recent days.
Ahead of Wednesday’s ballot, the “United” bid from North America came out on top in a FIFA evaluation, with various aspects including stadiums, accommodation, transport and organizing costs factored in.
Out of five, the joint bid got a score of four, while the Moroccan bid scored just 2.7, with the North African bid deemed “high risk” in three areas because of a lack of infrastructure to host the 80-game tournament.
The United Bid also estimated double the profits that the Morocco bid had calculated – $10 billion to $5 billion for the North African nation.
Morocco had said it needed to spend almost $16 billion (£12 billion) on infrastructure while the North American bid’s revenue forecast ($14.3bn) far outstripped what Morocco had to offer ($7.2bn).
In addition to its low evaluation score, FIFA’s evaluation of the Morocco bid also raised concerns about the potential treatment of the LGBT community.
“There is a risk of discrimination based on sexual orientation as a consequence of the country’s legislation on the matter,” the FIFA assessment said.
Regarding sexual orientation, the North American bid pledged to use its leverage to reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment in Mexico and the US in particular.
CNN’s Jill Martin contributed to this report.