Trump factor weighing on 2026 World Cup race: analysts

Sunil Gulati, (center) president of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), Canadian CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani (left) and Mexican Football Federation President Decio De Maria hold up a signed unified bid for the 2026 soccer world cup on April 10, 2017 in New York City
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s intervention in the race for the 2026 World Cup has placed North America’s bid for the tournament in jeopardy with the FIFA vote to award the showpiece just weeks away, analysts say.

In his first public comments on the 2026 race, Trump on Thursday appeared to warn that nations who did not support the joint US-Mexico-Canada bid may face political repercussions.  

“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” Trump tweeted.

“It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

Morocco is the only other nation bidding for the 2026 showpiece. 

World football’s governing body FIFA will announce the winning bid after a vote in Moscow on June 13 on the eve of this year’s World Cup.

With an array of already-built, modern stadia, including iconic venues such as Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, and established tourism and transport infrastructure, North America had long been as the clear front-runner for what will be the first 48-team World Cup.

Increasingly, however, the USA-Canada-Mexico bid has had cause to look nervously over its shoulder at Morocco, which has gathered momentum and secured support from the influential Confederation of African Football as well as countries in Europe, notably France.

Publicly, the North American bid has sought to play down the significance of the ‘Trump factor’ in the 2026 race. 

Even after his reported description of certain parts of the world as “shithole” countries in January, North American bid leaders maintained they had seen no evidence of blowback.

“This is not geopolitics, this is football…we have had no backlash to our bid,” United States Soccer Federation chief Carlos Cordeiro, one of the three co-chairs of the bid, said after meeting Asian Football Confederation members in Kuala Lumpur last month.

– ‘Morocco’s gig now’? –

FIFA experts sounded a more pessimistic tone however.

University of Michigan professor Andrei Markovits, co-author of ‘Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism’, believes Trump’s comments on Thursday could prove fatal.

“I think Trump may have sunk it,” Markovits told AFP. “In the world of association football and the world of international sport, nothing is more sexy than beating up on the much-hated Yanks. It’s a feast. And this is red meat.

“It’s given undecided countries a welcome pretext. Many countries are really relishing the opportunity to sock it to the United States. If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s Morocco’s gig now.”

The broader electorate that will determine the outcome of the vote in Moscow could also work in Morocco’s favour if there is widespread anti-Trump sentiment.

Following the corruption-tainted 2010 vote in Zurich to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA changed its bidding process. 

Whereas previously the 24 members of the FIFA executive committee used to determine World Cup races, now the hosts will be decided by a vote of the 211 individual FIFA member nations.

– ‘Difficult to predict’ –

Jaimie Fuller, one of the founding members of the New FIFA Now advocacy group, believes Trump may weigh heavily on the North American bid, while cautioning that the vote remains finely balanced.

“I wouldn’t be stunned if Morocco won this,” Fuller told AFP. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of that was down to the fact that Trump has waded in.

“This is such a difficult one to predict. Because on the one hand you’ve got what would seem to be a sensible, logical choice; but then you’ve got the emotional aspects.” 

Peter Alegi, an associate professor of history at Michigan State University and an expert on FIFA and football in Africa, said that he believed Trump had hurt North America’s bid, a Moroccan victory would be equally attributable to clever campaigning.

“My own take is that the xenophobia, the isolationism of the Trump administration has hurt the 2026 bid,” Alegi said. 

“But at the same time I would not exaggerate its significance,” he added, noting that Morocco had only narrowly lost out to South Africa in the race for the 2010 World Cup.

“Morocco has been actively involved in trying to host the World Cup for quite some time,” Alegi told AFP. “They’ve got a lot of experience of running a bid. They know how FIFA works. They understand the back channels, the marketing, the campaigning. It’s true that Trump has hurt the (North American) bid. 

“But Morocco has done a lot of good work for their own cause and advanced their interests very well.”

FIFA’s perceived antipathy towards joint bids – a legacy of the co-hosted 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea — may also work against the North American bid, Alegi added.

“FIFA does not have a favourable view of co-hosting,” he said. “2002 was difficult. They will be concerned that co-hosting could potentially present a lot of challenges, not just because of the politics of Trump, but logistically.”

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