North America Wins Bid to Host 2026 World Cup

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Members of the bid committee celebrate after Canada, Mexico and the U.S. won the vote to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Members of the bid committee celebrate after Canada, Mexico and the U.S. won the vote to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.


Photo:

European Pressphoto Agency

MOSCOW—The U.S., Mexico and Canada on Wednesday secured the right to co-host the 2026 World Cup, the most popular sporting event on the planet, bringing the tournament back to North America for the first time since 1994.

The united bid beat out Morocco, in its fifth unsuccessful bid in seven tournaments. The decision, by a vote of 134 to 65, was made as delegates from around the world gathered in Moscow ahead of the 2018 World Cup kickoff on Thursday.

With more than three-quarters of FIFA’s income stemming from the tournament, and more than a billion viewers every four years, selecting a host is one of the organization’s most critical tasks.

Not only does the North American bid now expect to break World Cup attendance records—which still stand from the U.S.’s 1994 tournament—but it also promised record profits for FIFA in excess of $10 billion.

The next job for the United bid is to whittle down its preliminary list of 23 candidate host venues to 16. The shortlist includes 18 cities in the U.S., from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, plus three stadiums in Mexico and two in Canada. The United bid didn’t give a time frame for its final selection.

The U.S. would remain the senior partner in the arrangement, hosting 60 of the 80 games. Canada and Mexico will each take 10. But the dream from the bid team was for each nation to have its own opening game featuring its home national team.

FIFA has not yet decided whether members of three-country bids will earn automatic berths, so all three countries may yet have to qualify through the normal route, which can prove tricky. (Of the three, only Mexico is in Russia. The U.S. fell at the last hurdle in October and Canada hasn’t been to a men’s World Cup since 1986.)

The proposed venues for the final are Dallas, Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey, according to the United bid’s pitch.

The 2026 bidding process had been under intense scrutiny, because it was the first to unfold since the most turbulent period in more than 100 years of FIFA history. The previous time the organization awarded World Cup hosting rights, in 2010, it chose Russia for the 2018 tournament and Qatar for 2022 in a contest so flawed that it became the focus of years of investigations.

This was also the first bidding process under FIFA president

Gianni Infantino,

who succeeded the disgraced Sepp Blatter and pledged to reform soccer’s governing body. His biggest change was opening up the vote to the entire FIFA membership and making their choices public, as opposed to the old system of 22 Executive Committee members casting secret ballots.

The United bid leaders, America’s

Carlos Cordeiro,

Mexico’s Decio De Maria and Canada’s Stephen Reed, spent the past four months traveling the world to court roughly 150 national federations, assuaging them on issues from tournament organization to President

Donald Trump’s

anti-immigration rhetoric.

Though Trump would no longer be in office by the time the 2026 World Cup began, even if he won a second term, many countries had held their disagreements with him against the North American bid, particularly in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The bid team leaned heavily on support from the White House, which committed in writing to grant visas to any country that qualified for the tournament.

That was one factor that kept the race close until the final hours before the vote. Late on Tuesday night, both bid teams patrolled the lobby bar of the Hotel Metropol to buttonhole delegates.

Ultimately, two factors proved decisive in the United’s bid victory: North America’s logistical simplicity and the profits the bid projected for FIFA.

The U.S., Canada and Mexico constitute one of the few regions on the planet that could conceivably host a World Cup next week without building a single new stadium. The hosts plan to do plenty of renovation over the next eight years, but North America was starting far ahead of Morocco, which needed to build at least half a dozen venues more or less from scratch.

FIFA draws more than 90% of its income from the World Cup and in presentation after presentation, United hammered that a North American World Cup would generate an $11 billion profit for FIFA. Morocco acknowledged it couldn’t offer half as much.

Out of the 80 matches, Mr. Cordeiro expects that the top six—meaning the opening games in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, plus the two semifinals and the final—would be on par with the ticket sales and hospitality numbers for a Super Bowl.

The North American bid began more than a year ago as the brainchild of former U.S. Soccer president

Sunil Gulati.

He all but vanished from the campaign after he elected not to run for another term last winter, following the U.S. national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. The U.S. briefly considered a solo bid before electing to formalize its relationship with the other two powers in its region.

Now, the North American troika has eight years to deliver on what stands to be the most ambitious World Cup in the tournament’s 96-year history.

“Cynics will say we did it because we didn’t think we could win,” Mr. Cordeiro said before the vote. “But I really believe we are stronger united.”

Write to Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson@wsj.com

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