World Cup coming to Canada as United bid wins effort to host soccer’s biggest showcase
|Toronto Star 13 Jun 2018 at 07:24|
The biggest sporting event on the planet will touch down on Canadian soil for the first time after world soccer’s governing body confirmed Wednesday a joint North American bid of the United States, Canada and Mexico as hosts of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
The United 2026 bid saw off surprisingly stiff competition from Morocco, the only other candidate, as delegates from across the world voted 134-65 in favour of the North American bid at FIFA’s 68th Congress in Moscow.
North American bid team leaves nothing to chance as World Cup decision looms
As this year’s installment of the tournament gets ready to kick off in Russia on Thursday, Moscow had been the scene of fevered last-minute campaigning by both bid teams in recent days, United and Moroccan figureheads pitching up at every gathering of continental soccer organizations to push their case.
In the end, the vote swung North America’s way by a comfortable margin. Their final on-stage presentation at Congress pushed hard on their “football for all” message. It featured Canadian men’s international wonder teen Alphonse Davies preaching inclusiveness and diversity and was so polished it was blinding. It clearly struck a chord.
“On behalf of our United bid, thank you so, so much for this incredible honour,” an emotional U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said on the Congress stage. Behind him his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, Steven Reed and Decio De Maria, were wrapped in a teary, joyous embrace.
The United 2026 bid (Canada-Mexico-U.S.) officials Carlos Cordeiro (second left), president of the United States Football Association, president of the Mexican Football Association Decio de Maria Serrano (right) and Steve Reed (left) president of the Canadian Soccer Association celebrate the successful bid. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/Getty Images)
“Thank you for entrusting us with this privilege. Let us also salute our friends from Morocco,” added Cordeiro. “At the end of the day, we are all united in football. That’s the spirit of the World Cup, the beautiful game transcends borders and cultures. Football today is the only victor.”
One of the most immediate and significant implications of Wednesday’s result is that Canada’s men’s national team will play at a World Cup for the first time in almost four decades, as all three host nations likely qualify automatically for the tournament.
The 2026 installment will see the World Cup expand from 32 to 48 teams with the bloated format seeing a total of 80 games take place. While the United bid is a co-operative effort, it is the United States that is the undoubted leader, with 60 games — and all matches from the quarter-finals onward — taking place there with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 each.
Canada’s games will be split between three host cities with Toronto potentially hosting four games and Montreal and Edmonton taking three each.
For so long the United bid had looked like it would run unopposed but Morocco, a country that has pitched but failed to secure four previous tournaments, jumped into the fray last August and created a two-horse race that has proved to be unexpectedly competitive.
While Morocco had some key factors in its favour — its much more friendly time-zone for the key TV markets of Europe, its footballing culture and potential tournament legacy — on infrastructural and financial fronts, the United bid blew it out of the water. FIFA’s pre-vote inspection reports had awarded Morocco 2.7 out of 5 as potential host with North America scored a 4.
But there is no more unpredictable entity in global sport than soccer’s governing body, even as it loudly claims to have cleaned up its act after being engulfed in financial scandal in recent times.
Allied with that unpredictability came an unpalatable presence at the heart of the United bid — U.S. President Donald Trump. His outbursts on African and Caribbean countries, his policy moves on immigration and his presence as head of the dominant country involved in the campaign proved a major hurdle.
However nothing eases FIFA nerves quite like money and the United team’s projection of a profit of $11 billion US as against Morocco’s $7 billion US likely proved to be the most crucial factor as delegates cast their votes at the ExpoCentre on the banks of the Moscow River.
Now that the months of hard yards and near-permanent politicking are out of the way, the really difficult part begins for the North American team — preparing for the biggest World Cup in history. Canada, for their part, has eight years to prepare a men’s team worthy of their place at the party.