The United States, Mexico and Canada are joining together in a bold bid to host the 2026 World Cup over all three countries. And despite its unprecedented nature, there is no doubt that it the heavy favorite to win the right to host the tournament.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt the bid. After all, only once in the history of the World Cup has more than one country hosted, and that 2002 World Cup was beset by logistical and politic issues between Japan and South Korea. There is no telling how the governments of the three countries will sort out the many complications, and that’s without taking into account the obstacles presented by travel bans U.S. president Donald Trump has tried to enact, sparking concern from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
Factor in the fact that the right to host won’t be decided until May of 2020, leaving plenty of time for upheaval in a World Cup bid process that is notoriously unpredictable — allegations of corruption aside — and it’s hard to call anyone a favorite.
NRG Stadium in Houston, TX is one of the most outstanding stadiums the U.S. has.
Despite that all, this all comes down to one thing — who else would host the 2026 World Cup?
FIFA have declared bids from Europe and Asia ineligible, because Russia and Qatar are hosting the two preceding World Cups. That eliminates nearly all of the most compelling challengers to the North American bid. England, Spain, Italy and China, countries that could put forth potentially excellent bids, are all out.
The only places that bids can come from are Africa and South America. To this point, no African country has expressed interest in bidding, and while there have been rumblings of a Uruguayan bid to honor the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup, hosted by Uruguay, it is in its infancy. There is no real outline for a Uruguayan bid and they aren’t even sure if they can host it alone, potentially needing to co-host with a yet undetermined partner nation. And that is the strongest challenger to this point.
Complicating things for anyone else who wants to get into the race is that hosting the 2026 World Cup will require more heavy lifting than any tournament before it. FIFA is expanding the competition to 48 teams in 2026, meaning more teams, more matches, more stadiums and more infrastructure. Most countries in the world couldn’t host the tournament at 32 teams. Going to 48 rules out even more and makes co-hosts, something that is difficult to pull off and requires incredible planning, necessary for most everyone going forward.
Estadio Azteca just underwent a massive renovation and has hosted two World Cup finals already.
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Odds are, most countries will want to see how the 2026 World Cup goes, and what the planning for a 48-team World Cup entails, before throwing their hats in the ring. So not only is there no credible challenger to the North American bid right now, but it’s increasingly unlikely a strong one will emerge.
All the while, the U.S., Mexico and Canada are supremely well-suited to hosting a World Cup, even at 48 teams. The U.S. could host the tournament all by themselves with dozens of magnificent large stadiums. Mexico might be able to as well with the venerable Estadio Azteca as its centerpiece. Both have also hosted World Cups before, not to mention other major international events. Canada can deliver several capable stadiums immediately as well, to go along with experience putting on the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the 2007 U-20 World Cup and the 2010 Winter Olympics.
To say that the North American bid is strong would be a massive understatement.
There is also a belief among those at FIFA that it is time for the World Cup to return to CONCACAF. By 2026, it will be 32 years since the region lasted hosted the world’s biggest sporting event, and every other continent will have hosted the World Cup in that time.
Rogers Centre in Toronto has a retractable roof and can seat more than 50,000.
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Some may wish that the U.S. bid on the 2026 World Cup alone, and there is merit to that complaint. But had they done so, they would have faced a pretty stiff challenge from Mexico. Canada may have also mounted its own bid. The strongest shouts to host the tournament all came from North America, and now that they’ve joined together, they haven’t just strengthened their own bid, but they’ve made it a potential one-horse race.
The officials from all three soccer federations, not to mention governments, still have a lot of work to do. The politics, travel, visas and planning are tough enough to figure out for a World Cup in one country, but this will require three nations all working together. It’s a herculean task, but it is really the only obstacle in their way, and they have more than two years to sort it all out before FIFA awards the 2026 World Cup.
It’s impossible to say what the world will look like in May of 2020, when FIFA gathers to decide the host of the tournament (let alone what it will look like in 2026). Trying to figure out what FIFA will look like then is just as difficult. But right now, there is one gigantic favorite to host the 2026 World Cup — it’s the U.S., Mexico and Canada … together.