Commentary

Behind FIFA's urgency to make a World Cup 2026 bid decision

One of the first things to go when the FIFA crisis hit last year after the arrests of seven FIFA officials and Sepp Blatter's decision to step down was the World Cup 2026 hosting bid process, which was put on hold. One of the first things new FIFA president Gianni Infantino plans to do is relaunch that process.

"It is fairly urgent," Infantino said at a media event on his first day on the job in Zurich. "Definitely, I think we need to launch the bidding process in the next couple of months, probably before the FIFA [Congress] in May."

Infantino also denied promising the 2026 World Cup to the United States, whose much-reported support helped turn the tables in his favor to a second-round victory over Sheikh Salman of Bahrain.

“No, certainly not,” Infantino told the BBC's Richard Conway.

After the USA controversially lost out to Qatar in 2010 for the right to host the 2022 World Cup, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati's position was that his organization would have to know process and rules that FIFA would use before it decided whether to bid.

The FIFA executive committee of which Gulati is a member approved the framework for the 2026 World Cup bidding process in March 2015. The specifics were never announced as less than three months later then-FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said it was "nonsense" to proceed with the bidding for a World Cup still 11 years away, given the FIFA crisis.

Infantino's FIFA has an interest in having the 2026 World Cup be awarded to the USA -- and sooner rather than later.

First, that decision would take talk about pulling the 2022 World Cup from Qatar off the table. Swiss authorities have uncovered more than 150 suspicious transactions related to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Even if only a small number of them are indeed related to Qatar 2022 and produce criminal charges, they will raise questions about a Qatar World Cup.

Second, Infantino desperately needs to reassure potential sponsors that it is again OK to be a World Cup partner, and FIFA can do nothing better to get them on board than offering them the inside track on being involved in a USA 2026 World Cup.

A short bid process would make it almost impossible for any other nation to present a bid proposal to challenge the USA, which has a slew of readily available mega-stadiums at its disposal.

And the last thing FIFA wants is for the 2026 campaign -- which will be decided by all 209 members, not the 22 executive members who voted for Russia and Qatar in 2010 -- to descend into a circus like the 2018 and 2022 races or others in the past that dragged out for several years.

Indeed, the 2026 bid process will be one of the first tests of how the FIFA reforms are at putting the work of running the sport in the hands a management team -- which will recommend a shortlist of eligible candidates -- and leaving the politics out of it. (If that had been the case in 2010, Qatar's candidacy for a summer World Cup would have likely been disqualified.)

A FIFA vote for a 2026 World Cup in the USA is no slam dunk, given world politics in general and the role of U.S. authorities in cracking down on FIFA, but few if any countries eligible to bid -- all but Asian members -- will be able to mount a serious bid, especially if it's for a 40-team World Cup, as Infantino has proposed.

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What would be U.S. Soccer's preferences? All things being equal, it would prefer to get the 2026 bid process out of the way sooner rather than later.

Still,  the longer it can wait so Infantino can begin to turn around the image of FIFA, the longer U.S. Soccer can build back up soccer's goodwill within the halls of government in Washington. One reason Valcke, who backed a USA World Cup, called off the 2026 bid process last year was FIFA's reputation had become dirt with U.S government leaders and there would have been no point trying to push a World Cup bid on them.

Another reason to put off the bid process in the short term: the U.S. presidential election. A change of administration will be tough enough for a World Cup bid that requires all kinds of governmental sign-offs.

But we do know U.S. Soccer's rooting interest. A Hillary Clinton administration will certainly help matters. Bill Clinton was chairman of the 2022 World Cup bid committee, while U.S. Soccer reconfirmed Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, on Saturday as an Independent Director for a two-year term.

6 comments about "Behind FIFA's urgency to make a World Cup 2026 bid decision".
  1. Greg Giese, February 29, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

    Nice Paul. Let's see. We go after FIFA because of Russia and Qatar. We get corrupt FIFA officials banned. We swing the election to Infantino. Then we wait for HillBill to take the reins and USA gets the WC2026. Sounds like business as usual to me. Thanks Paul for ruining my day.

  2. David Trapp, March 1, 2016 at 5:23 a.m.

    So Paul, now you are a shill for Hillary? Nice job. I guess I will just run right out and vote for her....NOT!

  3. Anthony Petgrave, March 1, 2016 at 9:07 a.m.

    His 1st test...and many more to come. Is he up to the task?

    http://in.reuters.com/article/soccer-fifa-secretary-idINKCN0W22QG

  4. Valerie Metzler, March 1, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

    Really?

  5. Forever Blue, March 1, 2016 at 11:05 a.m.

    We want 2022, not 2026.
    Let Qatar bid on 2026. Maybe by then climate change would make a Qatar summer more bearable.... not.

  6. R2 Dad, March 2, 2016 at 12:27 a.m.

    Two thoughts:
    1) Since change is in the air, the USA should insist that FIFA pay proper taxes in every country it which it runs a world cup. Just because they can avoid taxes doesn't mean they should.
    2) to appear above the fray, the USA should not apply for 2022 nor 2026. With how involved we were in the indictments of existing FIFA members, it would be sketchy to immediately benefit from our involvement over the past couple of years. Let Canada represent Concacaf or Australia AFC.

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