by Guy Jackson
Agence France Presse
MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — The United States, Mexico and Canada will host the 2026 World Cup after a clear victory over underdogs Morocco in a vote by FIFA member nations on Wednesday.
The joint North American bid received 134 of the 203 votes, while Morocco polled 65 in the ballot at a FIFA Congress held in Moscow on the eve of the 2018 World Cup.
It means global football’s showpiece event will return to the North American continent for the first time since 1994 when the United States hosted the tournament.
Bid leader Carlos Cordeiro said his team was “humbled by the trust our colleagues in the FIFA family have put in our bid”.
He said the tournament had an opportunity to put football “on a new and sustainable path for generations to come.”
It will be the first World Cup to be expanded to 48 teams, posing an enormous logistical challenge for the hosts, one of the issues that is thought to have undermined the Moroccan bid.
US President Donald Trump tweeted: “The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations – a great deal of hard work!”
The North American bid had been deeply concerned by Trump’s threat during the bidding process that nations that did not support it should not expect US support on other issues.
Bid leaders were worried the FIFA vote could essentially become a referendum on Trump.
That prompted Cordeiro to plead ahead of the ballot to make their decision on the merits of the bid, “not geopolitics”.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was believed to have strongly backed North America behind the scenes because the trio of countries involved supported him in 2016 when he took over after the corruption-tainted reign of Sepp Blatter.
– Clear choice –
Delegates had been faced with a clear choice in the 2026 vote.
The joint North American bid boasted modern, established stadiums and well-developed transport links underpinned by Mexican football fervor.
Morocco, on the other hand, promised a “European” World Cup in Africa, playing on its proximity to Europe and an appeal to take the tournament back to the African continent for just the second time.
But compared to North America, Morocco’s bid existed largely on paper — many stadiums and roads would have had to have been built and critics questioned how it would have coped with an expanded tournament.
FIFA inspectors classified the north African nation’s stadiums, accommodation and transport as “high risk”, awarding it just 2.7 out of five in an evaluation report, with concerns raised over several critical aspects.
They warned “the amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated”.
The report made the US-Canada-Mexico bid the clear favorite after rating it four out of five, and Morocco was not able to bridge the gap.
– $11 billion profit pledge –
The 1994 World Cup in the United States set an attendance record that still stands, with nearly 3.6 million spectators for only 52 matches.
That suggests that North American bid leaders’ promises to deliver a record $11 billion profit for the 2026 tournament are feasible.
The decision will be a shot in the arm for football in the US, after the national team failed to qualify for 2018 in a huge setback for the game there.
It will also be celebrated in football-crazy Mexico, which hosted the World Cup in 1970 and in 1986 — the tournament remembered for Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal.
But the result was a bitter blow for Morocco after a fifth failed bid. In 2010 it lost out to South Africa, which became the first African host.
Morocco was quick to congratulate the winner, tweeting “#Maroc2026 congratulates @United2026 on their victory.”
The Moroccan bid had enlisted the support of the British communications agency that helped London and Paris land the 2012 and 2024 Olympics.
France, in particular, lobbied behind the scenes for French-speaking Morocco and the bid had the support of most African nations.
The US defeat by Qatar in its bid to host the 2022 World Cup is now tarnished by corruption allegations that spelled the beginning of the end of the once all-powerful FIFA president Blatter.
That vote prompted an overhaul of the rules. Whereas previously the 24 members of the FIFA Executive Committee used to determine World Cup races, the host is now decided by a vote of individual FIFA member nations.