Tim Hall’s View From 101
This week, high above Manhattan, on one of the tippy-top floors of the new World Trade Center, the federations of the United States, Mexico and Canada came together for an historic announcement.
For the first time ever, three nations will apply to co-host one men’s World Cup, in 2026. (The only previously successful co-hosting bid was the South Korea and Japan bid for 2002.) The details, such as they are in the infant stage, would give 10 opening round matches each to Mexico and Canada, while the remaining 60 matches – this math being incumbent on the expansion to 48 teams still being in effect come 2026 – including everything from the quarterfinals on, would take place in the United States.
Now, the knee-jerk reaction from any fan of the beautiful game currently stationed in North America should be one of sheer joy. Sure, bring the World Cup here again, this way we don’t have to stay up late, wake up early or travel to any oppressive regimes. And why not, when the 1994 World Cup held on American shores remains the best attended one of them all on a per game basis. And as US Soccer president Sunil Gulati himself pointed out, while simultaneously poking the 2022 hosts Qatar, it’s not like we’ll have to run around building stadiums here. The place is lousy with them, all shapes and sizes for your viewing pleasure.
And look, there was Gulati, flanked by his Mexican and Canadian counterparts, holding up a portfolio for the cameras in a wonderful symbol of multiculturalism and openness and love and puppies and rainbows.
If you’re looking for a colossal, continental-sized “but” right around now, you’ve come to the right place.
It’s one thing to do a good thing, and from the viewpoint of any soccer fan in mainland North America, having the World Cup here is like a couple weeks of Christmas. But when you do good things for obviously and transparently bad reasons, it becomes far harder to support them. Take dragging someone off a plane. A terrorist, sure. A child who kicks your seat from Buffalo to Phoenix, absolutely, but we’ve already covered terrorists. A doctor who paid his way fair and square, not as much.
We are looking much the same at this bid. All three of these nations could all by themselves host a World Cup, and have. So what gives? Why this sudden outpouring of international diplomacy and friendship? The answer is two-fold. The first is that this was the most expedient way for all three of the spacious CONCACAF nations to avoid bidding against one another and involving themselves in a costly war.
The second and larger reason is that (sigh) American foreign policy isn’t exactly on the upswing right now, and it is very difficult to say what lasting effects legislation currently being considered will have on the travel rights for players coming from other parts of the world, so opening up the ability for those players to go to Mexico or Canada and avoid the hassle of traveling to the States is a way to undercut that concern.
Of course, this would require an almost unheard of conspiracy to draw an affected nation into a certain group, but since FIFA already technically do something like this to avoid any one group being too Euro heavy, so it’s not completely beyond the pale. Also, this does not address what might happen should said nation advance beyond group play. And we’re talking nine years from now, so maybe this entire discussion will be pointless or maybe the continent will be a fallout zone, so who cares anyway.
So, aside from providing political cover, why else is the unified bid all wrong? Well, Canada. It’s always Canada.
You may recall that Canada just hosted a women’s World Cup in 2015 and came under fire for playing all of those games on a synthetic surface. When asked about the possibility of that happening again for Canada’s batch of games in 2026, Canadian federation president Victor Montagliani said the Canadians would, if required, install grass at their venues. Oh, well, what great charity and largess does beat in that very man’s chest. Turf was good enough for the chicks to kill themselves on for an entire tournament, but for the gentlemen to play a proper opening round, no expense shall be spared! The finest manicured lawns for the dominant gender!
And lest we forget that while Canada and their women’s team were deserving hosts for a World Cup and deserving of the automatic spot in the tournament, for the men to get a spot, even in an expanded 48-team finals, is a stretch. Canada’s men have only made the big show once – in 1986, crashing out in the group stage with no points and no goals scored, thanks for coming – and are currently the 109th ranked team in the world. That’s two spots behind Togo. If people were up in arms about Qatar being given a World Cup and an automatic spot when at least they’re currently ranked at 75, there should be a similar inquest about the Canucks.
This does not also take into account the 80-game slog which the World Cup is set to become. We haven’t seen this monstrosity yet, so we have no idea how good or bad it could be. While the big home opening matches will be full of pomp and circumstance – the US in either New York or Los Angeles, Mexico in a sold-out Azteca, Canada… in a sold-out Azteca – each World Cup comes with some real snoozers as they are in the current format. Expanding the tournament does not mean more phenomenal world-class games from top competition, it merely ensures more barely watchable dreck like Iran v Nigeria was in 2014.
Now, none of the above is to say that World Cup North America 2026 wouldn’t be a rousing success. There would doubtlessly be stadiums packed with those fans who will be legally allowed to travel to this continent and financially capable of forking over the massive amounts of money that will be charged for tickets. But keep in mind those two points, because this bid is as much about politics and money as any World Cup bid in the past or in the future, only this one has been cleverly disguised behind the gauze of international cooperation and friendship, and the sooner we all realize the truth, the better.