North Amer­i­can trio beats Morocco to host 2026 World Cup

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ROB HAR­RIS and GRA­HAM DUN­BAR

MOSCOW — North Amer­ica will host the 2026 World Cup af­ter FIFA vot­ers over­whelm­ingly opted Wednesday for the fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal cer­tainty of a United States-led bid over a risky Moroc­can pro­posal for the first 48-team tour­na­ment. The soc­cer showpiece will re­turn to the U.S.for the first time since 1994 af­ter gain­ing 134 votes, while Morocco got 65 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow, where the 2018 tour­na­ments starts on Thursday.

“Thank you for en­trust­ing us with this priv­i­lege,” U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Car­los Cordeiro told the congress. “The beau­ti­ful game tran­scends bor­ders and cul­tures.”

U.S.Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted af­ter the vic­tory : “Con­grat­u­la­tions, - a great deal of hard work!” While Trump has been feud­ing with Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau over tar­iffs and pol­icy af­ter the G-7 meet­ing and with Mex­i­can lead­ers about his pro­posed bor­der wall, the heads of state are not heav­ily in­volved in this World Cup bid. Even if Trump wins re-elec­tion, his pres­i­dency would end be­fore the 2026 World Cup.

The vote by na­tional foot­ball fed­er­a­tions was pub­lic, in con­trast to se­crecy sur­round­ing the 2010 vote when FIFA’s elected board mem­bers picked Rus­sia to host in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, de­feat­ing the U.S.

The re­gional bid proved more ap­peal­ing this time and the North Amer­i­cans even col­lected 11 votes from Africa.

“The United bid was strong and if it was just the United States, I think Morocco would have beaten them,” said Cameroon fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cial Kevin Njomo, whose coun­try voted for Morocco. “Peo­ple have a soft spot for Mex­ico ,es­pe­cially look­ing at Mex­ico as a lit­tle bit un­der-de­vel­oped and giv­ing them a chance. Canada is a good tourist des­ti­na­tion.

“But I think where it had the ad­van­tage was the World Cup would be more prof­itable in Amer­ica and it is a cap­i­tal­ist world.”

North Amer­ica is op­ti­misti­cally promis­ing to de­liver $14 bil­lion in rev­enue help, while the tour­na­ment won’t re­quire ma­jor con­struc­tion work re­quired on the 16 planned sta­di­ums, all of which al­ready ex­ist. The U.S. pro­posed stag­ing 60 out of the 80 games in 2026, when 16 teams will be added to the tour­na­ment, leav­ing Canada and Mex­ico with ten fixtures each. But FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino sug­gested the split of games could change. “They have made a de­ci­sion among them­selves but ul­ti­mately it will be up to FIFA to de­cide,” In­fantino said.

Morocco ap­peared too haz­ardous as a po­ten­tial host when all 14 venues had to be built or ren­o­vated as part of a $16 bil­lion in­vest­ment in new in­fra­struc­ture.The vote leaves Morocco reel­ing from a fifth fail­ure in a World Cup host­ing vote, with the con­ti­nent’s sole tour­na­ment com­ing in 2010 in South Africa.

Moroc­can Prime Min­is­ter Saad Ed­dine El Oth­mani shared the na­tional dis­ap­point­ment but tweeted his thanks to the bid or­ga­niz­ers for “this com­mon dream.”

Moroc­can sports jour­nal­ist Omar Chraybi ac­knowl­edged that “tech­ni­cally speak­ing, it’s un­der­stand­able - the U.S. bid ca­pac­ity sur­passes Morocco’s. ”Yet he didn’t lose hope, say­ing, “The world still looks at Africa as an un­der­dog, but we can’t af­ford to give up.”

While Morocco’s com­bined tick­ets and hos­pi­tal­ity rev­enue pro­jected to be $1.07 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to FIFA analysis, North Amer­ica would gen­er­ate $2 bil­lion more.

Canada will host men’s World Cup matches for the first time, while Mex­ico gets its first taste of the event since 1986.

“To have a mes­sage com­ing from foot­ball that says ac­tu­ally Mex­ico, Canada and the United States to­gether can or­ga­nize the big­gest sport­ing and so­cial event to­gether,” In­fantino said. “It is a nice mes­sage.”

The 87,000-ca­pac­ity MetLife Sta­dium out­side New York — home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets — is pro­posed for the fi­nal. It’s just miles from where fed­eral prose­cu­tors spear­headed an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into FIFA cor­rup­tion. More than 40 soc­cer of­fi­cials and busi­nesses in­dicted, con­victed or pleaded guilty.

The bribery scan­dal put the gov­ern­ing body on the brink, In­fantino told the congress ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“FIFA was clin­i­cally dead as an or­ga­ni­za­tion,” In­fantino said, re­flect­ing on his elec­tion in 2016 be­fore an­nounc­ing plans to an­other four-year term in 2019.“Two years later, FIFA is alive and well, full of joy and passion and with a vi­sion for its fu­ture.”

The North Amer­i­can vic­tory sug­gests cur­rent FIFA lead­ers don’t hold grudges against a coun­try whose gov­ern­ment has jailed cor­rupt sports lead­ers.

“When they help us fight against cor­rup­tion, of course, we are pleased,” In­fantino said.

The North Amer­ica bid also had to over­come con­cerns about the im­pact of poli­cies from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing at­tempts to im­ple­ment a ban on travel by res­i­dents of six ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries.

FIFA now has the fi­nal say on which cities are se­lected to host games and whether all three coun­tries are guar­an­teed a place at the tour­na­ment. Vic­tor Mon­tagliani, the Cana­dian who leads CONCACAF, wants them to take three of the seven guar­an­teed qual­i­fi­ca­tion slots re­served for the re­gion as host .Both the United States and Canada failed to qual­ify for this year’s World Cup.

There is also a chance to send an eighth team via an in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal play­off. North Amer­ica will host the six-team play­off tour­na­ment in Novem­ber 2025 to de­cide the last two places in the 48team lineup.

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