The United States, Mexico and Canada announced their intention to submit a joint bid to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup on Monday, with three-quarters of the games to be played in the U.S., including the final.
The bid, which U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati said has the support of President Donald Trump, aims to be the first World Cup to have three host countries. If successful, it would mark just the second time that the tournament has had multiple hosts after the 2002 World Cup was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.
With the 2026 World Cup expanding from 32 to 48 teams, and thus increasing the number of matches from 64 to 80, the joint bid is heavily favored to be chosen. Gulati said at the announcement in New York that the U.S. would host 60 games -- including every game from the quarterfinals on -- while 10 each are played in Mexico and Canada.
FIFA is expected to confirm its rules for hosting the 2026 World Cup at its Congress on May 11 in Bahrain, though the world governing body said in October that countries in Europe and Asia will be prevented from bidding because Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup, while Qatar hosts the 2022 edition.
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All bids must be submitted to FIFA by December 2018. The bids will be evaluated over the next 15 months, with that phase being completed by February 2020. The host or hosts will be chosen in May 2020, before the next U.S. presidential election.
Gulati said Trump was "fully supportive and encouraged us" to pursue the joint bid within the last few days, and was "especially pleased" to learn Mexico would be involved.
The national federations' plans come amid Trump's call for a wall to be built along the Mexican border and signing of executive orders -- since stopped by courts -- banning immigration and travel from multiple countries.
"We don't believe sport can solve all the issues in the world but, especially with what's going on in the world today, we believe this is a hugely positive signal and symbol of what we can do together in unifying people, especially in our three countries," Gulati said.
Mexico federation president Decio de Maria said in a statement: "If we are selected to host, it will be an honor to welcome everyone with open arms."
Mexico is aiming to become the first country to host the World Cup three times, having done so previously in 1970 and 1986. The U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup, setting records for total and average attendance that still stand to this day, despite subsequent tournaments having more teams and thus more games. Canada has never hosted a men's World Cup, but did host the 2015 Women's World Cup.
As Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani noted: "Canada is the only remaining G-8 nation to have not hosted a FIFA World Cup despite our history of success in raising the bar for youth and women's FIFA tournaments."
The Women's World Cup in Canada was played on turf, which caused controversy as players complained FIFA would never allow the men's tournament to be played on an artificial surface.
Montagliani said the final decision would be up to FIFA, but added: "Every men's World Cup has been on grass. We assume this will be the same."
There are still plenty of logistical hurdles for the three countries to overcome, including travel over such a large area. Gulati said a formal plan will depend on FIFA's structure of the tournament, but suggested opening rounds would see teams stick to the same region, such as the East or West coasts.
The three countries have vastly different qualifying histories. Mexico has played in 15 World Cups, the most of any CONCACAF nation. The U.S. has participated in 10, including the last seven tournaments. Canada has qualified for just one World Cup, the 1986 edition that Mexico hosted.
While FIFA has said that CONCACAF would garner six spots in the expanded World Cup format, it remains to be seen how its allotment will be affected if the bid is successful. Montagliani, also the president of the North and Central American and Caribbean region and a FIFA vice president, has said all three hosts should automatically qualify if the bid is successful.
FIFA's Congress of all members decided on World Cup hosts through the 1982 tournament, but the power was then given to its ruling executive committee of about two dozen members. After the tainted vote in December 2010 that awarded the 2018 and 2022 events, the decision was returned to the Congress, now 211 members.
In a one-vote-per-nation system, Africa could mount a competing bid, especially if it allies with another confederation and both vote as blocs. Europe has 55 members, Africa 54, Asia 46, CONCACAF 35, Oceania 11 and South America 10.
Argentina and Uruguay are keen on co-hosting in 2030 to mark the 100-year anniversary of the event that was first staged in Uruguay.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.