2026 Cup gives U.S. chance to show off

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist

The United States is go­ing to need every minute of the next eight years to get ready for its turn as the world’s host.

Not to build sta­di­ums or ho­tels, or even add the in­fra­struc­ture re­quired to sup­port the 2026 World Cup and the mil­lions of guests it will bring. The USA has all that, so much so that it could host the tour­na­ment next year if need be.

No, what this coun­try needs is man­ners and ci­vil­ity, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to peo­ple from out­side our bor­ders. Given the cur­rent cli­mate, re­mind­ing Amer­i­cans how to roll out the wel­come mat might be the big­gest chal­lenge — and the big­gest ben­e­fit — for the U.S. or­ga­niz­ers in the United Bid.

What makes the United States unique is that we are, at heart, a coun­try of mis­fits. With the ex­cep­tion of Na­tive Amer­i­cans, we all came from some­where else. Many of our an­ces­tors were poor and un­e­d­u­cated when they ar- rived, lured by the hope of a bet­ter life in the United States — or at least a fairer shake than what they’d get in the coun­try they just left.

Some fled war and per­se­cu­tion. Others, shame­fully, were brought here against their will.

But to­gether, this patch­work of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cultures, dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences, has made the United States ex­cep­tional.

We seem to have for­got­ten that, how­ever. Our govern­ment now treats im­mi­grants and refugees as if they are less than hu­man, con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the fact that many of our an­ces­tors were once viewed with that same kind of dis­dain and con­tempt. Peo­ple who look or sound dif­fer­ent are the ob­ject of hate and, some­times, vi­o­lence, as if our rel­a­tives didn’t once have to as­sim­i­late as well.

Not all of us are so small-minded and rude. But enough to be em­bar­rass­ing.

The World Cup, and the Sum­mer Olympics in Los An­ge­les two years later, is a great chance to re­mind Amer­i­cans that there is a vast world out­side our bor­der. That de­spite out­ward ap­pear­ances, we are more alike than dif­fer­ent. That wel­com­ing strangers is not only the right and char­i­ta­ble thing to do, it’s the most Amer­i­can thing to do.

In mak­ing the case for the United Bid to the FIFA Congress in Moscow, U.S. Un­der-20 soccer player Bri­anna Pinto told the story of play­ing Iran in a youth tour­na­ment last fall. On the field, the Amer­i­cans and Ira­ni­ans were fiercely com­pet­i­tive, Pinto said.

Off of it, they ate meals to­gether and bonded over their com­mon love of soccer.

“We may come from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cultures,” Pinto said Wed­nes­day, “but deep down we’re all pretty much the same.”

It’s fit­ting that the United States teamed up with Mex­ico and Canada to bring the world’s largest sport­ing event back to North Amer­ica.

The United States could have gone it alone as it did in 1994, the last time it hosted the men’s tour­na­ment, and 1999 and 2003, when it hosted the women’s tour­na­ments.

But or­ga­niz­ers rec­og­nized the bid would be stronger if they worked with Canada and Mex­ico, em­brac­ing its neigh­bors and the spirit of co­op­er­a­tion. A whole is al­ways greater than the sum of its parts, and the 2026 World Cup will be bet­ter for its in­clu­siv­ity.

“In a world where the forces of di­vi­sion try to pull us apart, a World Cup in North Amer­ica will show how football unites us all, as fam­ily and friends,” said De­cio de Maria, pres­i­dent of the Mex­i­can Football Fed­er­a­tion.

De­spite the Su­per Bowl’s block­buster rat­ings and the World Series’ over­stated name, the World Cup is the most pop­u­lar sport­ing event on earth. It’s a spec­ta­cle like no other, a won­der­ful riot of sport and fan­de­mo­nium, and Amer­i­cans will be charmed by ev­ery­thing about it — if they let them­selves be.

The fo­cus will be on the sta­di­ums and the games, but it is or­di­nary peo­ple who will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the suc­cess of the 2026 World Cup. It doesn’t take much to be kind or wel­com­ing, and the ben­e­fits al­most al­ways out­weigh the ef­fort.

The world is com­ing our way. The tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter.

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