Money is the ‘new’ World Cup reality as United 2026 bid leaders make final powerplay

By Andrew Warshaw

June 7 – The questions came thick and fast. How do you justify an apparent discrepancy in your projected figures? To what extent will Donald Trump’s global unpopularity work against you? Is your bid simply about budgets rather than passion and pedigree?

One week before the eagerly awaited vote for the 2026 World Cup, leaders of the hotly fancied three-nation North American bid have sought to justify why it is time the tournament comes back to Concacaf after 32 years rather than be handed to underdogs Morocco.

On paper, the heavyweight USA-Canada-Mexico partnership should win hands down on June 13 after being rated way ahead of the Moroccans by FIFA’s evaluation panel in almost every category.

Although inspection scores can be ignored, the report’s verdict will put significant pressure on FIFA’s voting members to follow the findings from the inspectors, not least in order to avoid a repeat of the last World Cup vote when Qatar were rated bottom of the pack but emerged victorious, leading to the mother of all scandals.

But even with the support of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, the three co-chairs of United 2026 are leaving nothing to chance with many predicting that a sympathy vote for Morocco – who have lost four times with previous bids while the USA have staged the World Cup once and Mexico twice – could result in an extremely close ballot in Moscow.

It’s not just about sympathy of course. The so-called Trump effect – from his comments about shithole countries to hinting of diplomatic and trade repercussions against anyone who votes against United 2026 – has led to heightened speculation that that Morocco may pick up considerable support from offended federations.

Yet according to US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro (pictured), it’s all been overblown.

At a media briefing in London, Cordeiro insisted that Trump’s name had not even come up in scores of conversations he and his two bid co-chairs have had with FIFA’s voting members over the last few months.

“We’ve been around the world multiple times and it really is not an issue,” said Cordeiro. “They want to know about visas for their players, staff and fans but they haven’t mentioned Trump.”

Cordeiro who presented a letter written by the US president on May 2 to FIFA to confirm an earlier promise from US authorities that there will be no immigration crackdown, added: “We have gone out of our way to make sure people understand there will be no discrimination.”

Whether or not Trump is still in the White House in eight years’ time, Cordeiro was at pains to play down political criteria and play up the benefits of the three-way bid.

“We would not like to be judged on the politics of today,” he said. “If FIFA had any problem with our commitments or assurances we would have had multiple red marks [from the technical inspectors] but we didn’t.”

Sitting alongside Cordeiro were his bid co-chairs, the presidents of the Canadian and Mexican FAs, Steve Reed and Decio de Maria. Both, predictably, echoed his sentiments.

“When we talk to the voters, we are talking about the merits of our bid, not what someone may have tweeted,” said Reed in a veiled but obvious reference to Trump.

De Maria agreed, adding: “We share a 2,000-mile border with the US and we have had our differences with them in the past, we have differences with them today and we will have differences tomorrow. But the message we are sending is that in terms of football we are united.”

Cordeiro insisted that joining forces with Mexico and Canada was not, as he put it, “an arranged marriage”.

“We felt back when we came together and we feel now, after an exhaustive and rigourous campaign, that we are stronger as three,” he said, explaining that the landscape was “vastly different” to the 2010 vote when the US went it alone and was upset by Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, a ballot that was embroiled in corruption allegations.

One of the crucial differences is the fact next week’s poll will be an open ballot among FIFA’s 207 eligible federations although it is still unclear how FIFA will transmit to the world how each country voted.

But just as significant, according to all three United 2026 co-chairs, is expansion to 48 finalists in 2026. This, they claim, has translated into extremely positive feedback for their bid from across the globe, with federations acknowledging that the days of single hosts from 2026 onwards are long gone.

“It was something that has resonated really well with the member federations,” Reed revealed. “They know that in the future it will be very difficult for any one country to host on its own.”

If true, it would be a factor which Morocco, for all its efforts to upset the odds next week, could simply not match.

To their credit if not always totally convincingly, the three co-chairs attempted to answer everything put to them, not least a perceived discrepancy in the figures, a topic on which reporters repeatedly pressed Cordeiro after an apparent recent increase of $400 million in projected ticketing revenue.

“When the bid was submitted in March there was a figure of $2.1 billion,” Cordeiro replied before adding United 2026 had since had “an opportunity to refine those numbers” to get to $2.5 billion.

That, of course, forms only part of the bid’s eye-watering $14 billion revenue projection, far more than Morocco and prompting a philosophical but nevertheless  important debate about whether the World Cup has shifted emphasis away from its original ethos towards FIFA handing hosting rights to the candidate than can best maximise revenue.

Cordeiro wasn’t having any of that.

“The fact is economics matter because they go right back to the federations for their grass-roots development,” he argued. “It’s not money coming to the three of us.”

All three nations also dismiss claims that distances between venues would be far too challenging and that North America, with its more traditional sports like baseball, ice hockey and American football, is somehow less passionate about football than elsewhere.

“The reality is that this is the world’s game,” said Cordeiro who grew increasingly bullish as the 90-minute briefing reached its conclusion. “The point about passion is a very jaded view. We sell out games every weekend.

“Concacaf haven’t had the World Cup 32 years and deserve it. As long as you can put on the tournament with a degree of certainty and generate the revenues, everyone will benefit. I have full respect for Africa, and Asia for that matter, but give us a turn and don’t come back to us about our heat, our temperature and our time zones. This is simply the reality.”

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