48 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

Did Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments turn a 2026 ‘Dead Cert’ into football’s poisoned pill?

By Andrew Warshaw

January 19 – The global perception of the United States under Donald Trump could pose a direct threat to the country’s bid to jointly stage the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico according to bid leader Sunil Gulati (pictured).

The tripartite bid is odds-on favourite to win the vote among FIFA’s members when it goes up against sole rivals Morocco in June, especially given its superior infrastructure for what will be the first World Cup to comprise 48 teams.

But Gulati, outgoing head of the US Soccer Federation, is reported to have told the United Soccer Coaches convention in Philadelphia that he is worried political issues could hurt the campaign and that it “will be a tough battle”.

For the first time in FIFA’s long bidding process, voting will be open to all members rather than an elite few and Gulati stressed that many of the 200-plus federations may need more convincing before deciding which way to go.

“We have to go out and convince what eventually will be 104 voters to vote for us,” Gulati told his audience. “We would like to get a few extra not to make it a one-vote swing. But this won’t be easy.”

Gulati cited US relations with North Korea, Trump’s highly contentious plan to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change as three factors that could prove awkward though the most off-putting behaviour of all from Trump, as far as the voting members are concerned, is likely to be his reported description of certain parts of the world as “shithole” countries.

Such rhetoric, which has drawn strong condemnation at home and abroad, seems likely to sway not only the whole of Africa but parts of Asia and Europe too towards Morocco which has endured four losing bids in the past.

“This is not only about our stadiums and our hotels and all that. It’s about perceptions of America and it’s a difficult time in the world,” Gulati said.

“So there are only certain things we can control. We can’t control what happens at the 38th parallel in Korea, we can’t control what happens with embassies in Tel Aviv and we can’t control what happens with climate change accords. We do the best we can. We have the support of Washington.”

Gulati is staying in charge of the bid committee despite his departure next month after 12 years as US Soccer’s president and following the Americans failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia. “I’m spending 90 percent of waking hours on (the bid) at this point,” he said.

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