The United States launched its bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada on Monday after gaining the support of President Donald Trump to pursue soccer's showpiece amid heightened regional political tensions.
Trump derided Mexico as a source of rapists and criminals in his campaign and has vowed to build a wall on the southern border. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for the wall.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati immediately faced questions about the impact of Trump's stance toward Mexicans on staging one of the biggest events in sports as he presented the bid alongside his counterparts from Mexico and Canada in New York.
"We have very specifically addressed this with the president," Gulati said of the Trump controversies. "He is fully supportive of the joint bid, encouraged the joint bid, and is especially pleased with the fact Mexico is participating in the joint bid."
Trump has faced criticism over his plans -- since stopped by courts -- to bar new visas for people from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last month that all players, team officials, and support staff from the 48 finalists "need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup. That is obvious." The U.S., Mexico and Canada have to guarantee freedom of travel as part of the bidding requirements.
The proposal for the first World Cup with the field expanded from 32 to 48 teams is that the U.S. hosts all the games from the quarterfinals. The U.S. would get 60 games while Mexico and Canada would have 10 each.
"We don't believe sport can solve all the issues in the world but, especially with what's going on in the world today, we believe this is a hugely positive signal and symbol of what we can do together in unifying people, especially in our three countries," Gulati said atop the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
The North American nations are seeking to bring the World Cup back to the region for the first time since 1994 when the U.S. was the sole host. Mexico wants to be the first three-time World Cup host after previous editions in 1970 and 1986.
The U.S., Mexico, and Canada all expect to qualify automatically -- as the last co-hosts South Korea and Japan did in 2002 -- but the FIFA Council has the final decision on the 2026 slots. The quota of finalists for CONCACAF, the North and Central American and Caribbean region, will double to at least six under the new format.
The hosting rights are due to be awarded by FIFA in 2020.
Africa and South America are eligible to bid but no countries from those continents have publicly declared an interest. Argentina and Uruguay are keen on co-hosting in 2030 to mark the 100-year anniversary of the event that was first staged in Uruguay.
FIFA rules currently prevent 2026 bidders from Europe and Asia because Russia is staging the World Cup in 2018 and Qatar has the showpiece in 2022. The U.S. participated in the 2018 and 2022 bidding contest but lost in a hotly disputed vote that sparked corruption investigations.
The fallout from the two FIFA executive committee votes included the forced departure of long-standing president Sepp Blatter and the criminal indictments in the U.S. of more than 40 people.
Investigations into corruption in the governing body are ongoing in the U.S. and Switzerland.
The procedure will change for the 2026 World Cup with the entire FIFA membership, which stands at 211, having a vote.
Returning to North America offers a safe and profitable choice for FIFA after the complications involving first-time hosts Russia and Qatar.
Details of the host cities for 2026 are yet to be announced but the U.S. portion of the bid will rely on the gleaming stadiums opened by the NFL in the past two decades.
Among the possible venues are MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (82,500 capacity, opened in 2010); AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (80,000, 2009); Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California (68,500, 2014); Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts (66,000, 2002); and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (69,500 in 2003).
Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000) is set to open this year and an 80,000-seat stadium for the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California, in 2019. The Washington Redskins also hope for a new home.
Chicago's Soldier Field, the only one of the 1994 venues likely to be used, reopened in 2003 after a gut renovation.
Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., also has been modernized and a soccer-style roof over the seats was added.
Mexico would appear to have few edifice concerns. Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, built for the 1966 World Cup, has an 87,000 capacity after a renovation that was completed last year, and there are relatively new venues in Monterrey (BBVA Bancomer, 52,000, 2015) and Guadalajara (Estadio Chivas, 45,000, 2010).
Canada's largest arena is Commonwealth Stadium (56,000) in Edmonton, Alberta, which opened in 1978 and was renovated ahead of the 2015 Women's World Cup.
BC Place in Vancouver British, Columbia (54,500) underwent major renovations from 2009-11 and also was used for the women's tournament. Montreal's Olympic Stadium (56,000), built for the 1976 Games, and Toronto's Rogers Centre (53,000) are less ideal for soccer in their current states.
"Canada is the only remaining G-8 nation to have not hosted a World Cup despite our history of success in raising the bar for youth and women's FIFA tournaments," said Canadian federation president Victor Montagliani, who is also a FIFA vice president through his leadership of CONCACAF.