Will Trump and Blatter cost Canada the right to co-host 2026 World Cup?

Fox Sports pundit Alexi Lalas joined Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 the FAN's Prime Time Sports to discuss the joint bid between Canada, the United States and Mexico to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and whether it can beat out the bid from Morocco.

When Canada, the United States and Mexico announced their united bid to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup last April, it seemed like a slam dunk.

At that time, no other nation had stepped forward to say it wanted to host the biggest sports event in the world. What’s more, earlier in the year, FIFA voted unanimously to expand from a 32- to a 48-team tournament starting in 2026. Europe and Asia was not allowed to bid on the tournament – Russia will host this summer, Qatar in 2022 – so the field of potential competitors to the Canada/U.S./Mexico bid was greatly reduced.

With both Mexico (in 1970 and 1986) and the U.S. (in 1994) having previously staged the tournament, with Canada coming off a successful job of hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and with the infrastructure and stadiums already in place to host an expanded World Cup, not to mention the collective know-how of the three countries, the joint bid seemed like it was a sure thing.

But then Morocco officially threw its hat into the ring last August when it announced its intention to bid to host the competition. And then U.S. President Donald Trump began angering people around the world, most notably with, but not restricted to, his comments about some African nations being “s***hole countries.” And then former FIFA president Sepp Blatter threw his support behind the Morocco bid.

In the past two months, there have been a number of reports – including in the New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times – about how Trump’s toxic presidency has led to a general decline in U.S. popularity around the world, thus tainting the joint bid. Just this week, ESPN’s Sam Borden published a story, citing high-ranking officials within FIFA, that “support for the United States-led bid to host the 2026 World Cup is more divided than most predicted, with some estimates of voting totals having Morocco not just threatening the North American bid but actually beating it.”

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The competing bids must be submitted to FIFA for consideration by March 16. FIFA will then vote on the bids on June 13, the day before the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off. It’s important to note that the prospective host nations can’t vote (Guatemala is also suspended from voting), which means the winning bid needs 104 votes out of the 211 FIFA member nations.

Borden reported that “one official who is in regular contact with all of the continental confederations estimated that Morocco has the support of much of Asia and South America, as well as its home continent of Africa, which would put it over the 104 votes needed.”

That the African nations might vote as a unified bloc shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering Morocco is one of the options. But Trump’s comments, as well as his executive orders that call for travel bans that temporarily bars entry to the U.S. for citizens from certain countries, also appear to be hurting the cause of the joint bid.

What does Canada Soccer have to say about the “Trump Effect”? Peter Montopoli is the organization’s long-time general secretary, and is one of the key figures behind the Canada/U.S./Mexico joint bid. He wouldn’t be drawn on the question, saying only that Canada Soccer “has been working well with our colleagues in the United States and Mexico,” and that the joint bid has the support of the U.S. President.

“I think this is truly a united bid, it’s not just one country – it’s the three of us working very well together. The White House, from what we understand from the U.S. side, has been very supportive of the work of the united bid committee. There’s been no issues there whatsoever. We’re working well with U.S. officials on the bid, and the White House is working well with the united bid committee,” Montopoli told Sportsnet in a one-on-one interview.

Last week, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter posted on Twitter that co-hosting bids for the 2010 and 2018 World Cups were rejected during his tenure. He also backed the Morocco bid, saying, “Morocco would be the logical host! And it is time for Africa again!”

Blatter resigned from his post in 2015 amid an ongoing corruption scandal, and he is currently serving a six-year ban from the sport. A Swiss criminal proceeding was also opened against Blatter in 2015 for alleged financial misconduct, although no charges have been made as of yet.

Blatter first joined FIFA in 1975 and served as president for 17 years, starting in 1998. Blatter’s standing is not what it once was, but he still has clout and plenty of influence in the global game. His word carries a lot of weight, and his public support of Morocco will not go unnoticed by any of the 211 nations who have a vote.

If Montopoli is concerned, he’s not showing it, as he deflected when the question was put to him directly, and instead touted the merits of the united bid.

“People have hinted that, ‘Oh, it’s the united bid vs. Morocco,’ so it should be all good for us. That’s not necessarily the case. We just keep very focused and working very hard on our bid… once we get that in, we’ll look to ensure our message gets across the globe, of unity, of certainty, and of opportunity,” Montopoli said.

“We really believe in that message. We believe it’s the right message for the right time for the FIFA World Cup in 2026. I really can’t say what Morocco is doing or what their message is, that’s not our concern. But we take them very serious. However, we feel if we get our message out, the voting community will understand the importance of a united bid and what it can contribute to the World Cup.”

He later added: “I think the idea of what the three countries can put together can be simply outstanding. It’s our time in CONCACAF. It’s been a while since [the World Cup has] been here. It is our turn.”

The joint bid calls for the U.S. to host 60 games, including all games from the quarterfinals through to the final. Canada and Mexico would each host 10 games. Four Canadian cities – Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – are potential host cities. Should the united bid win, its organizing committee will work in conjunction with FIFA to decide which cities will get games, although FIFA makes the final call.

Montopoli revealed he expects two to three Canadian cities to host games should the united bid win.

“We remain confident about our bid. But we’re not taking anything for granted on the bid process. We’re doing everything we can on our end to deliver a top class bid by March 16, and then from there ensuring what the soccer community around the world knows exactly what our bid is about and what we can provide to FIFA as stewards of the competition. We take nothing for granted at this point,” Montopoli said.

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