By Andrew Warshaw
March 8 – One week before bid books are due to be handed in to FIFA by the two rival contenders for the 2026 World Cup, Sunil Gulati has stepped down as the main man for the three-nation US-Canada-Mexico bid as part of a reshuffle.
Having called time on his presidency of the US Soccer Federation after 12 years when the US failed to qualify for Russia next summer, Gulati (pictured left with De Maria and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani) was widely expected to lead the lobbying and campaigning initiative up right until the vote in June, especially as he still a member of the ruling FIFA Council
But with no senior executive role to play at the USSF any longer, Gulati, who was sole chairman of United 2026, has given way to a joint approach with new USSF President Carlos Cordeiro, Mexican Football Federation President Decio de Maria and Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed all becoming co-chairmen of the bid. Gulati will remain a member of the bid committee’s board, however.
United 2026 said the changes reflect the “unity” at the highest levels of the joint bid, which faces Morocco for the right to host the tournament. “As the three co-chairs of our United Bid, we are proud to represent the shared commitment of the people of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to hosting the first ever 48-team FIFA World Cup with unity and unparalleled stability and certainty,” the trio said.
The agenda appears to be to alter the perception that the bid is a largely American enterprise. The United States is due to host 60 of matches, with Canada and Mexico just 10 each.
Back in January Gulati was quoted as saying that he was “spending 90 percent of waking hours on (the bid) at this point” but in recent weeks, there has been growing speculation that although Morocco are firm underdogs, the gap is closing.
That is most likely the result of adverse publicity surrounding the Donald Trump regime. Gulati himself 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 FIFA federations are concerned, is likely to be his reported description of certain parts of the world as “shithole” countries.
Fears of a possible backlash against the favourites to land 2026 have also been heightened by the US-led anti-corruption drive that has seen a string of former FIFA bigwigs indicted.
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com