KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —- Solidity, certainty, all the stadia in place, more American sponsors back with FIFA so what’s there not to like about the United bid to host the first 48-team World Cup finals in 2026?
This is the core message which football leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States will be delivering to their counterparts when they attend Wednesday’s draw for the UEFA Nations League in Lausanne.
They rehearsed the arguments in London en route for Switzerland, drawing on an expertise and experience of the perils and pitfalls of a World Cup bid process which will reach a climax with a vote in FIFA Congress in Moscow on June 13 – the eve of the Opening Match of the 2018 finals in Russia.
The three-headed leadership of the bid comprises Mexican FA supremo Decio De Maria, outgoing USSF leader Sunil Gulati and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani. Gulati is a member of the governing FIFA Council while Montagliani is also a world football federation vice-president by virtue of his status at the head of the central and north American confederation.
US hopes of going it alone in 2022 were dashed in the scandal-scarred vote in 2010 which sent the finals to Qatar instead and, in the opinion of disgraced ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, sparked a US reprisal with the FBI’s wide-ranging legal assault on FIFA and a gaggle of corrupt directors in the Americas.
The bid system has been overhauled since then with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino determined that the 2026 process should be ‘bullet-proof’.
Gulati & Co said they were determined all their work would be transparently above board. They are playing up the facilities already in place and, although they did not say so directly, that the rest of the football family considers the United bid as a ‘safe pair of hands’ after the roller-coaster rides to Russia this year and Qatar to come.
Morocco, unsuccessful World Cup pursuers in 2006 and 2010, provides the only opposition for a tournament from which Europe, Asia and South America are precluded from contesting by continental rotation rules.
The only shadow hanging over the United bid is the large unpredictable one of President Donald Trump and his scattergun attitude to the rest of the world, essential bid guarantees notwithstanding.
Gulati & Co did their best in their words, “to take this in our stride” while trying to turn the conversational focus back to the strengths of their bid.
He said: “We will have an extraordinary bid with nothing needed to build.
“We have all the assurances and guarantees needed from all our three governments and which are important for FIFA. We are very focused on convincing the majority that the World Cup in central and north America will be an unparalleled opportunity for them and for FIFA.”
The raison d’etre is that the financial opportunities offered by the United bid – with a promise of a record 5m-plus ticket sales – will underpin the financial resources which FIFA passes on to its 211 members in development and support grants.
The majority of the competition would be played out in the US with 60 games including all the knockout ties. Canada and Mexico would each have 10 games in the group stage.
Obviously all three countries will want direct entry as co-hosts though this is up to FIFA, not to them.
As for the Trump issue, Montagliani said: “The politics are always there. When we started years ago thinking about bidding there were politics though I can’t remember what.
“There is a political environment now and there will be when we get to 2026 but for us it’s all about football and the certainty we can bring to FIFA and to the membership.”
Though the United bid is a clear favourite, an assessment of the various continental confederations suggest the vote could be surprisingly close – assuming, that is, that Morocco’s bid manages to satisfy the technical inspections in March.
Montagliani added: “We’re not taking anything for granted. Every vote, every member, is important and we’ll be working hard to ensure our bid is as it needs to be. We have certain milestones, such as March 16 when we put in the actual document, and those are what we are focuswd on with the endgame being on June 13 in Moscow.”
Whether Trump will be attending, in Moscow, or whether the United bid would want him there, remains open to conjecture. Gulati was not prepared to commit himself either way on that intriguing one.