Manuel Veth –
The United States, Canada, and Mexico will bid to host the 2026 World Cup. The bid was officially announced on Monday at what was called a historic announcement by CONCACAF. Orchestrated by CONCACAF’s Canadian president, Victor Montagliani, the bid certainly is historic in that it is the first time ever that three countries have bid to host the tournament together.
With the tournament expanding from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, the USA-Canada- Mexico 2026 World Cup bid is a safe choice for FIFA. It remains to be seen, which other countries will bid for the tournament—the only other country that has announced intentions to bid for the tournament has been Colombia—but it is extremely likely that the World Cup is coming back to North America for the first time since 1994.
The 1994 World Cup remains the tournament with the highest average attendance in World Cup history, with an an average attendance of 68,991, and was the most profitable tournament ever. Going back to North America, therefore, would make sense for FIFA and for football in general.
2026 World Cup – North America has an incredible pedigree when it comes to hosting football tournaments
North America, of course, has an incredible pedigree when it comes to hosting football tournaments. Aside from hosting the above mentioned 1994 World Cup, the United States has hosted the 2016 Copa América Centenario, and regularly hosts the Gold Cup. Mexico, meanwhile, has hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, which were both considered two of the most successful tournaments in World Cup history. Canada hosted the 2007 U-20 World Cup, the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and is the only G-8 country to have never hosted the World Cup.
There are, of course, many questions regarding the bid announcement. How would such a tournament be structured and how will the games be split up? USSF president Sunil Gulati announced, during the World Cup bid press conference, that the United States would host 75% of the games, which would mean that of the 80 games that make up the 2026 World Cup, 60 games would take place in the United States. This would mean that just ten games would be played in Canada and ten in Mexico.
Furthermore, the tournament would be be played exclusively in the United States from the quarterfinals onward. In essence, this means that the 2026 World Cup bid is a United States bid that will include limited locations in Canada, and Mexico.
Canada Soccer, the USSF, and FMF (Mexico’s football federation) did not want to comment on the exact makeup of the tournament in terms of which cities would host the tournament. Although Gulati believes that this will be the bid with the most host cities ever, because the United States would host the majority of the games, it is probably safe to say that Canada will be left with three, maybe four, host cities (most likely Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and one other city). In Mexico, most games are likely to be in Mexico City and in the immediate metropolitan region of the country’s capital.
2026 World Cup – Will all three host countries get an automatic right to participate?
Another important question is whether all three CONCACAF countries will automatically qualify for the tournament. Here, Victor Montagliani, who is both the Canada Soccer and the CONCACAF president, was insistent that all three host countries would be given an automatic spot. Given Montagliani’s influence within CONCACAF and FIFA, there is a good chance that Canada will be given an automatic spot in 2026 but, at the same time, does hosting just ten games warrant an automatic spot?
This last point is especially important for Canada. The new 48 format means that CONCACAF will have 6.5 spots at the 2026 World Cup. Hence, Canada should be able to qualify no matter what.
The country has recently hired a new head coach in Octavio Zambrano. The Ecuadorian has been given the assignment by Canada Soccer to completely revamp the country’s football program. To date, Canada’s World Cup qualification record has been poor—Canada’s only participation at the World Cup came in 1986. Given an automatic birth at the World Cup would, therefore, not only help to increase excitement and sponsorship money for the tournament, but it would also help to grow the game in Canada.
The recent 2010 Olympics, which took place in Vancouver, shows that the federal government of Canada is willing to invest in sport in order to guarantee success when the country hosts a sport event. The Own the Podium program was hugely successful, in that the country cracked the top three in Olympic standings at the 2010 Olympics, and won the most gold medals of any country.
The opportunity to host the tournament, although to a limited degree, could mean that the federal government will provide more funding toward football programs in the country. Furthermore, it could also help with finding investors willing to invest in a Canadian Premier League. Canada currently has three teams in Major League Soccer, but will have to create an independent football league at some point in order to further establish the sport in the country.
Canada will only have a limited role
These are the positives. The negatives, of course, include the fact that Canada will exit from hosting the tournament following the round of 16. Another negative is the disappointment that the country will host just ten games out of 80. Of course, there are strong arguments in favour of the USA to hosting the majority of the games.
The United States has 107 stadiums with a capacity over 50,000 seats—although the vast majority of those stadiums would be hard-pressed to meet FIFA standards. Canada has four, with only BC Place meeting FIFA standards, and Mexico has three. With these statistics in mind, it is clear that the United States could easily have held the tournament on their own, and Canada and Mexico would have found it difficult to defeat the United States, had they each handed in rival bids.
At the same time, the United States needs Canada and Mexico to make this bid a success. The FBI’s involvement in the FIFA corruption scandal, and the current political climate in the United States would have made it difficult for the USSF to convince FIFA that to award them the tournament. By including Canada and Mexico in the bid, the United States can package this as an inclusive bid that can build bridges in a region where too much talk has been about building walls.
Because of this fact, it is surprising that Canada Soccer and the FMF agreed to host just ten games, and no games after the quarterfinal. After all, the United States will need its neighbours to make this bid a success.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.