FIFA blocks Europe from host­ing 2026 World Cup, lift­ing US hopes

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

North Amer­ica be­came a stronger fa­vorite to host an ex­panded World Cup in 2026 af­ter FIFA es­sen­tially barred Euro­pean coun­tries from bid­ding yes­ter­day.

The FIFA Coun­cil agreed that UEFA and Asian con­fed­er­a­tion mem­bers should not bid again so soon af­ter Rus­sia hosts the 2018 World Cup and Qatar has the 2022 tour­na­ment.

“That has changed the land­scape (of the 2026 con­test) a lit­tle bit,” said US Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati, a FIFA Coun­cil mem­ber.

FIFA said Europe would be put on standby only if “none of the re­ceived bids ful­fill the strict tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial re­quire­ments.”

That’s un­likely if the United States bids as ex­pected, ei­ther alone or with Canada and Mex­ico.

FIFA fa­vors co-host­ing among re­gional neigh­bors, and a three­way bid could be more pop­u­lar if the tour­na­ment grows to 40 or 48 teams.

A de­ci­sion will be made on whether to ex­pand the tour­na­ment on 9-10 Jan­uary when the FIFA Coun­cil Zurich.

FIFA has tar­geted 2020 for its mem­ber fed­er­a­tions to choose the 2026 host. FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino, who was elected this year af­ter promis­ing vot­ers a 40team World Cup, would not de­clare North Amer­ica as the most likely host re­gion.

“It is still too early to say that,” In­fantino said. “We hope we have many bid­ders and we can choose ... who the best bid­der is.”

Still, the North Amer­i­can re­gional body CON­CA­CAF has long been seen as the nat­u­ral host for 2026 and its claim got stronger Fri­day.

The United States was the last coun­try in the re­gion to stage the tour­na­ment in 1994.

“The an­swer is ‘Sure,’ it would be silly to say any­thing but that,” Gu­lati said of a con­test that could also in­clude bids from Africa and South Amer­ica.

CON­CA­CAF lost out when a host­ing ro­ta­tion sys­tem ap­proved dur­ing Sepp Blat­ter’s pres­i­dency was aban­doned be­fore its sched­uled turn in 2018 came around. next meets in

Back then, FIFA pre­ferred to block con­ti­nents from two World Cup bid­ding con­tests af­ter host­ing, but when statutes were up­dated in re­cent re­forms the rule said only one tour­na­ment had to be skipped.

Gu­lati said the new clar­ity in bid­ding would en­cour­age an en­try from the United States.

“We now know some of the rules,” said Gu­lati, FIFA’s top Amer­i­can of­fi­cial.

“We will look at it. We have great re­la­tion­ships with Canada and Mex­ico. We also have a coun­try with 320 mil­lion peo­ple that has hosted a World Cup and with a lot of ter­rific sta­di­ums and great in­fra­struc­ture.”

A US-hosted World Cup would likely set at­ten­dance records — in 1994 there were 3.59 mil­lion to­tal fans and an av­er­age of 69,000 per match.

In­fantino said Fri­day that a big­ger World Cup — po­ten­tially of 48 teams and 80 matches with an open­ing play­off round — would be for sport­ing rea­sons, “not a fi­nan­cial or po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion.”

Still, he fore­saw more rev­enue from FIFA’s cur­rent $5 bil­lion per tour­na­ment, which could help in­crease the fund­ing he promised to FIFA mem­bers.

“What­ever ad­di­tional costs there will be, will be largely out­weighed by ad­di­tional rev­enues, ob­vi­ously. Which means we are in a com­fort­able po­si­tion,” In­fantino said. Other de­ci­sions yes­ter­day: — FIFA’s 2017 congress will be held in Manama, Bahrain — the home city of FIFA vice pres­i­dent Sheik Sal­man bin Ebrahim Al Khal­ifa of Bahrain — on May 11. The orig­i­nal venue of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pulled out cit­ing prob­lems with is­su­ing visas to del­e­gates.

— The re­branded FIFA an­nual awards cer­e­mony, for­merly known as the Bal­lon d’Or, will still be held in Zurich on Jan. 9. FIFA had ex­plored a move to Lon­don.

— The dates of CON­CA­CAF’s Gold Cup tour­na­ment in 2017 have been mod­i­fied. It will kick off two days ear­lier, end four days ear­lier and be played July 726.

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