Gulati: 2026 North American World Cup would reap big profits

TORONTO (AP) Outgoing U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati says a 2026 World Cup hosted by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. would financially be ”by far the most successful” in tournament history.

Speaking alongside his fellow federation presidents and bid committee executive director John Kristick in advance of the MLS Cup in Toronto, Gulati said Saturday the continent’s existing stadium infrastructure and sponsorship potential could break revenue records.

”We believe that between the size of the stadiums, which obviously impacts attendance, the level of hospitality available at stadiums, which affects revenue, and the commercial opportunities that are available to FIFA, this will be by far the most successful financial World Cup,” Gulati said. ”And it’s probably a pretty good time for that to happen for FIFA.”

The federation representing North and Central America and the Caribbean has not hosted the World Cup since it was played at nine U.S. venues in 1994. The region is the leading contender for 2026, when soccer’s premier event expands from 32 nations to 48.

FIFA barred Europe and Asia from entering the 2026 race because they will have hosted the previous two tournaments. South American soccer leaders are hoping to host a centenary World Cup in 2030, and bidding experts privately say Africa is not a realistic option now.

Morocco is the only other bidder competing for 2026, and the deadline for entrants has passed. The completed bid must be submitted to FIFA in mid-March. FIFA members will vote for the 2026 host at the 2018 World Cup in Russia in June.

”We expect Morocco to put together a very good bid,” Gulati said. ”We expect them to campaign hard. We know, as of today, that infrastructure and all of the requirements are much easier to meet in our three countries. That would have been true certainly in the two countries that are hosting the next two World Cups as well.”

In 2010, Qatar beat out the U.S. as host of the 2022 World Cup, with the 2018 tournament going to Russia. The process was discredited by corruption allegations.

Gulati is encouraged by tighter compliance – both for the bid and for FIFA – plus a public vote to determine the host.

”We are fully confident that this is a far better process than FIFA has ever had before,” he said. ”That’s why we’re in it.”

Kristick, who was at FIFA headquarters in Zurich last week working on the bid, echoed Gulati’s sentiments.

”FIFA knows the spotlight is shining very, very bright and this is something that the FIFA president is going to be judged on every step of the way,” Kristick said. ”I feel much better about where we’re at.”

The ”United 2026” proposal calls for 60 of the tournament’s 80 games to be played in the U.S., with the other two countries holding 10 each. That arrangement has been met with criticism in Mexico, which has hosted two World Cups.

Said Mexican federation president Decio de Maria: ”The number 10 is going to follow me for the rest of my life.”

In October, 32 cities were selected as potential hosts, including four in Canada, three in Mexico and 25 in the United States. Final decisions on host cities would not be made until 2021, Kristick said.

Last week, Gulati said he will not seek a fourth term as federation president, a decision that came after the recent failure of the U.S. to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Among the candidates to replace Gulati in the February election are former national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino and former U.S. Olympic and women’s World Cup goalkeeper Hope Solo.

The field also includes USSF Vice President Carlos Cordeiro, Boston lawyer Steve Gans, New York lawyer Michael Winograd and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

”I don’t think all the candidates will get the requisite nominations,” Gulati said. ”Probably some of the candidates don’t have a full understanding of the job they are running for. That’s probably true for almost anybody who runs for an office.”