Commentary

World Cup 2026 sales process and the Trump effect

While many players have spoken out about President Donald Trump, until now there has not been a lot of comment from soccer officials.

In his recent podcast with SI.com's Grant Wahl, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was asked about the travel ban and he responded by saying that "it doesn’t represent what I believe is the best of us. My guess is some years from now a lot of people will look back at this and say we shouldn’t have done that.”

Gulati said there are two effects of any travel restrictions -- the short-term and the long-term, the practical impact of movement of travelers and the long-term effect of how the USA is viewed by the rest of the world.

Gulati said it was too early to tell how the travel ban and other Trump policies (border wall) would affect the USA's chances of hosting the 2026 World Cup -- U.S. Soccer has not yet decided if and how it will bid and a decision by FIFA won't be made until 2020, by then the fourth year of Trump's administration.

But in an interview with the New York Times' Rory Smith, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the USA's chances of winning the right to host the 2026 World Cup would be damaged if Trump’s travel restrictions come into full force.

“It will be part of the evaluation, and I am sure it will not help the United States to get the World Cup," Ceferin said. "If players cannot come because of political decisions, or populist decisions, then the World Cup cannot be played there. It is true for the United States, but also for all the other countries that would like to organize a World Cup."

Trump's temporary travel ban, struck down by a federal court in Seattle, would have, for example, prevented the Iran national team from obtaining visas to the USA. Iran qualified for the 2014 World Cup and is in good shape to qualify again in 2018. (Iran granted the U.S. wrestling team permission to compete at the 2017 Freestyle World Cup after the travel ban was struck down.)

Travel restrictions to players, officials and fans present a problem for the organization of any World Cup. FIFA went ahead and overwhelmingly gave the 2018 World Cup to Vladimir Putin's Russia, despite his record of abuses and human-rights violations and Russia's travel restrictions. (Russia has agreed to ease travel restrictions for fans in 2018.)

While it is still too early to tell what will be U.S. travel policies a month from now, let alone a year or 10 years from now, that concern about how the USA is viewed by the world -- and vice versa, Trump of the world -- is a valid one. Will there will be such viable competition to a U.S. bid -- unlikely at this point -- that it might be derailed by world opposition to Trump's policies? Hard to know.

FIFA has set a four-step process for the determination of the 2026 World Cup host:

-- Strategy and consultation phase (May 2016-May 2017);
-- Enhanced phases for bid preparation (June 2017-Dec. 2018);
-- Bid evaluation (Jan 2019-Feb. 2020);
-- Bid decision (May 2020).

By September, when the IOC chooses between Los Angeles and Paris for the 2024 Summer Olympic host, we'll have a much better idea of how Trump views international sports and vice versa, so U.S. Soccer still has plenty of time to evaluate the Trump question.

As far as soccer goes, we have little to go on in terms of Trump's interest, if any, in the sport. He played soccer at military school in 1964 but that was the prehistoric days for soccer in this country. (He isn't the first president to play soccer -- George H.W. Bush was the captain at Andover and played one year in Yale.) Trump's first five weeks have moved by so fast without getting insight into his (current) spectator interest in sports -- we know all about golf.

At a media gathering in November, four days after the election, Gulati said he was not concerned about the outcome of an election that was unexpected. U.S. Soccer has ties to the Clintons, going back to the World Cup 2022 bid in 2010 when President Bill Clinton was the honorary chairman of the USA Bid Committee and Clinton right-hand man Doug Band was a committee director, and they would have helped open a lot of doors. (Donna Shalala, the president of the Clinton Foundation, is on the U.S. Soccer board.)

"We'll develop those relationships," Gulati said of the new Trump administration. "In the White House today and in the [next] White House, there will be people in the building who love the game. That's true in every statehouse across the country. That's different than 20 years ago, or in 1988 when we were bidding [for the 1994 World Cup]. I can name the people in the White House who are huge fans and tweet about it, come to our games, that write about it, wish us good luck for today. That will be true in any administration for the foreseeable future."

U.S. Soccer will certainly need to seek out those huge soccer fans in the Trump administration and enlist their support for what wasn't going to be an easy sell to begin with, in light of the FIFA scandals and the dim view many in government have about FIFA. Whether Trump will view a 2026 World Cup bid effort with any suspicion, given the Clinton history with World Cup 2022 bid, is unknown, but he has shown how he views those who opposed him or were critical of him as he has gone about selecting his administration. (Trump doesn't forget.)

The hardest part of selling the World Cup 2026 might be at home, not abroad.
9 comments about "World Cup 2026 sales process and the Trump effect".
  1. R2 Dad, February 28, 2017 at 12:51 a.m.

    Dear Sunil,
    Before you get a head of steam on this whole hosting-the-world-cup thing, please remember the only way FIFA gets off without paying any taxes is if YOU allow it. As a decent american concerned with increasing our tax base instead of more giveaways to huge multinationals *ahem* *FIFA*, I'd hope you agree. Otherwise, your comments amount to political grandstanding and we have two lame political parties that do enough of that, thanks.

  2. Richard T. Lynch, February 28, 2017 at 7:09 a.m.

    Under Trump's so-called travel "ban", the Iranian national team could not get into the country for the next 90 days, which is irrelevant in WC timing, after which, more rigorous vetting would be put in place, which I'm pretty sure a bunch of soccer players could clear. The misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding the rule is disgraceful.

  3. ROBERT BOND, February 28, 2017 at 9:28 a.m.

    fi-fy-fo-fum lets players play for anyone they want, no restrictions by nationality at all.....

  4. Edgar Soudek, February 28, 2017 at 10:02 a.m.

    Dear R2 Dad: if you are concerned about taxes maybe our esteemed president should start paying his...which hasn't happened since 1985....

  5. R2 Dad replied, February 28, 2017 at 7:47 p.m.

    Wait...wut? I have not followed presidential tax returns, nor have I audited them. Am I supposed to know something about that? All I know is that FIFA's contract with the host country exempts them from paying taxes on their income. It's a big tax break they get by allowing the country to host the matches--a quid pro quo. Well, FIFA needs the USA to host more than we need to do the "honors". And I'm all for other countries demanding taxes be paid--this isn't just a USA thing. Certainly South Africa and Brazil could have used the $500M in taxes that would have been paid.

  6. ROBERT BOND, February 28, 2017 at 10:16 a.m.

    that's why i gave up on Bayern(no, wait-i could care less about the political aspects of the world as they relate to the world's most democratic sport)

  7. Fajkus Rules, March 1, 2017 at 8:44 a.m.

    Edgar:

    Don't be so dopey, you really think Trump could have cheated on his taxes and not gotten exposed by someone in the Obama administration? In reality, Trump met ALL of the financial disclosure requirements he was legally obligated to. Why hasn't anyone made a big deal out of the information contained in those docs? Because there's nothing there that can be conveniently used against him. The whole releasing his tax returns would have been an innuendo fishing expedition for his opponents, nothing more.

  8. Mario Cesarone, March 1, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.

    What a bunch of political garbage from Wahl and Ceferin. 90 day pause ...the sky is falling. Get a grip on reality and stop smearing our sport with partisan politics.

  9. Nick Daverese, March 3, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    When the US played Iran here years ago I did not see it live because I hurt my back kick in aluminum ties on our kwick goals because I lost our mallet.

    If their was a game in Iran I would have went to that would you have gone?

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