By Simon Evans and Mitch Phillips
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The leaders of Mexico and Canada gleefully cheered winning the right to host the 2026 World Cup jointly with the United States on Wednesday, emphasizing unity at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump has frayed relations with the two neighbors during his 18 months in office.
Trump, who as part of a tougher U.S. immigration policy has called for a wall to be built on the country’s southern border and paid for by Mexico, just days ago personally insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over a trade dispute.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro suggested to reporters on a conference call that bringing the three countries together was more of a challenge than any Trump effect.
“If you stop and appreciate for a second just the vast number of assurances, guarantees that we had to get from all three governments working together, that is a massive undertaking for one nation, let alone three nations,” Cordeiro said after the vote by the Congress of world soccer’s governing body FIFA in Moscow, where the 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday.
“So if there were any complexity here it was three nations working together which just raised the difficulty of getting stuff done,” Cordeiro said.
The joint bid received 134 votes to 65 for Morocco. One FIFA Congress member voted for “neither bid.”
Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trudeau all took to Twitter to post their reactions to the news.
“The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations – a great deal of hard work!” Trump said.
Pena Nieto posted a video to his Twitter feed in which he said: “Football knows that Canada, the United States and Mexico are deeply united.”
Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa: “It’s an opportunity to bring the world together and highlight how well things work between Canada, Mexico and the United States.”
The North Americans pledged their tournament would generate an $11 billion profit for FIFA – greater than any previous World Cup finals – a financial shot in the arm for world soccer’s governing body, which has been rocked by a corruption and bribery scandal ensnaring top officials.
The “United Bid” projected that its tournament would generate more than $5 billion in short-term economic activity, including the creation of 40,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in incremental worker earnings. More than 5.8 million tickets are expected to be sold, generating over $2 billion in ticketing revenue, according to the winning bid’s projections.
Morocco, which has now failed in five bids to host the FIFA World Cup, said their tournament would make $5 billion. The North African country would have needed to invest billions of dollars to build new stadiums while the United States, Mexico and Canada will mostly use existing venues.
Under Trump, relations between the United States, Canada and Mexico have plumbed new lows thanks to disputes in the renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, a $1.1 trillion trade pact that ties the three countries’ economies together and which Trump has said should be scrapped.
THREE HOSTS A FIRST
Although it will be the first World Cup to be hosted by three countries, most matches will be played in the United States. As part of the joint bid, Trump pledged that those traveling to the United States for the tournament would not be subject to stringent visa restrictions.
Even if Trump were to be elected for a second four-year term in 2020 he would not be in office when the World Cup kicks off in 2026.
Trump had earlier warned that any countries voting against the North American bid would suffer consequences in trade deals. The president has regularly assailed world leaders, including allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, for “ripping” America off over trade.
Under FIFA’s new system for choosing the host, all eligible national football federations that attend the Congress were given a vote. The last time FIFA voted on World Cup hosting rights was in 2010, the decision rested with the former executive committee which chose Russia to host the 2018 finals and Qatar for 2022.
Several members of that committee were later banned for life from the sport after they were caught up in the corruption scandal that engulfed FIFA in 2015.
The three hosts were all expected to qualify automatically for the tournament as has been the tradition for host nations. The U.S. previously hosted the World Cup in 1994 and Mexico staged it in 1970 and 1986. Canada has never staged a men’s World Cup, but hosted the women’s tournament in 2015.
Soccer is Mexico’s national sport, but is still considered a niche sport in the United States and Canada. Hosting the 2026 World Cup will be used as an incentive to involve more people in the game, U.S. Soccer’s Cordeiro told reporters.
“We believe this event will become a lightning rod … (and) transformational for the sport as kids who are now 8-, 10-, 12-years-old can all dream of potentially playing for a national team,” Cordeiro said.
The national team failed to qualify for the Russia tournament.
The 2026 finals will be the first expanded tournament featuring 48 teams, up from the current 32-team event.
Of the 80 games, 60 will be played in the United States with 10 each in Canada and Mexico. The final will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home to the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
Ten of the eventual 16 chosen venues for the tournament will be in the United States with Mexico and Canada having three venues each.
(Reporting by Simon Evans and Mitch Phillips in Moscow; additional reporting by Mark Gleeson, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Christian Radnedge and Frank Pingue; Writing by Ken Ferris and Grant McCool; editing by David Chance and G Crosse)