No surprise as ‘Unified’ bid wins right to host 2026 World Cup

Projected profit of $11 billion (€9.33 billion) was always going to sway Fifa members

 Gianni Infantino: Fifa’s president  had done pretty much everything in his power to wrap things up in advance in support of the USA/Canada/Mexico joint bid. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

Gianni Infantino: Fifa’s president had done pretty much everything in his power to wrap things up in advance in support of the USA/Canada/Mexico joint bid. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty

 

If there is anything the good folks at Fifa like more, a lot more, than being able to portray themselves as peacemakers between warring factions on the world stage, it’s almost unaccountably large pile of cash.

Thanks to Donald Trump, they get both by having heavily backed the “United” or Unified” bid to stage the 2026 World Cup.

The US president has been angering his country’s neighbours to the south for quite a while now with his persistent talk of building a wall to keep them out and, after having imposed tariffs on some goods entering from the north recently, he ramped things up with Justin Trudeau this week by describing the Canadian prime minister as “weak” and “dishonest”.

In another bidding process, such levels of conflict might be considered a concern, perhaps even a fatal one to the collective hopes of success. But football’s governing body sees itself as a unifier with the power to make politicians see beyond their own local and rather petty agendas.

In recent months it has extracted guarantees from all concerned, including the US government, that teams, officials and fans would all be able to enter and move freely between the three countries before and during the tournament. The suggestion is that only those with criminal records will have a problem.

There will doubtless be unrestricted movement of official tournament merchandise too.

So who needs the Nafta or the WTO when you’ve got Fifa to bang some heads together in order to secure free and fair trade between nations?

Trump has, more than once, expressed his personal support for the project and first welcomed the news of its success on Wednesday in a two-line tweet issued between similarly brief statements on Opec and the Koreas.

Despite his celebrated involvement in the Rumbelows Cup draw of 1991, there is little enough reason to actually regard the president as much of “a soccer man,” but it is not hard to see why he might view this particular World Cup bid as rather nicely aligned to his policy of ‘America first’.

Some 60 of the event’s 80 matches, after all, including all of them from the quarter-final stages on, will be played in the US with the final at the MetLife in New Jersey a stadium more commonly associated in Ireland with U2 concerts and end-of-season friendlies.

Projected profit

And then there is the projected profit: all $11 billion (€9.33 billion) of it, vastly more than the Moroccans could credibly have attempted to promise they would deliver. All those zeros certainly played well with Fifa, the confederations and the national associations who voted. Each of whom will be lining up in due course for their share of the pie.

So huge were the stakes, indeed, that Fifa boss Gianni Infantino had done pretty much everything in his power to wrap things up in advance but in the end he needn’t have worried; most everyone involved knew which side their bread is buttered on.

The Germans said afterwards that the American president had done more to damage than help the ‘United2026’ bid. But, like the Irish and Russians and 131 others (though not, as it happens, Trump’s new pals, the North Koreans), they still voted for it, as mindful, no doubt, as they have been with Qatar, of the need to keep the big wheels turning.

When Trump realises, of course, that most of the cash will be going overseas he might have second thoughts about the entire enterprise. But it is already too late and he will be well gone by the time the actual tournament comes around, replaced by, well, we can only guess wildly and wonder: Cynthia Nixon and Roseanne Barr may be the early frontrunners for the respective nominations.

“What we know is that there will be a president in eight years’ time and they will have to live up to the commitments made to Fifa today,” said US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro before the vote when asked about the “Trump factor”.

Iran, of course, might take him to task on that one. As it is, they went that little bit further than Cuba and the couple of others who abstained in Moscow by formally voting “None of the bids”.

Morocco, meanwhile,did well to get 65 votes and they attracted some significant European support including France, Italy and the Netherlands. But the North African nation have almost certainly dodged a bullet here.

It is their fifth time to bid and it would be understandable if all the cold shoulders were simply making them that much more determined (they certainly suggested they would be back again in the wake of the yesterday’s result being announced).

But the reality is that staging a 32-team World Cup caused enormous financial problems for both South Africa and Brazil with colossal cost overruns and neither the private investment promised nor the anticipated post-tournament benefits materialising. This time, they were committing to stage a 48-team event that would have required them to build or completely renovate 14 stadiums. And then all the rest of it.

Fifa has simply priced such countries out of hosting the event and most nations have gone along with it because the pay-off has been so substantial.

Everyone loves to talk a good game where these sorts of things are concerned but ultimately the money trumps it all.

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