By Ali Bahaijoub
WASHINGTON - President Trump warned nations against opposing the US bid for the 2026 World Cup.
Trump is threatening to hold support from countries that do not back the joint bid by the US, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati announced on Monday that the U.S., Canada and Mexico issued a collective bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and President Trump is backing the bid, Gulati tweeted.
Morocco is the other bidder that failed to secure the bid when South Africa bribed FIFA officials to host the world cup in 2010.
Trump’s astonishing bullying attempt to influence the outcome of the bid could be a breach of FIFA’s rules regarding political interference.
The FIFA Congress will meet in Moscow on 13 June to vote on the 2026 host and a majority of the 207 members is needed.
French football Federation president Noel Le Graet told the french sports daily l’equips that France will support Morocco.
The decision to spread the games across three countries was reportedly linked to President Trump’s travel ban, according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl.
The federation, in part, sought assurances that countries like Iran, which is both a regular competitor in the World Cup and also a country on the president’s list of banned countries, could fully participate. Mr. Trump’s travel ban would restrict immigration and travel from six countries in the Middle East, including Iran, if it were in effect.
The 2026 World Cup will be the largest in sports history, including 48 teams and 80 total matches.
Sixty of those 80 games would be held in the U.S. if the trio’s bid is selected, according to Gulati. The bids are still being evaluated, and a final decision won’t be announced until 13 June.
Currently, Mr. Trump’s revised ban has been suspended by the federal courts while the legal battles over the ban are resolved.
FIFA came under fire in 2015 from U.S. and Swiss investigations over corruption charges. After an FBI investigation, 14 officials and associates from FIFA were indicted in May 2015 for high levels of corruption such as racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud schemes.
The current FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also been accused of interfering with the bid when he asked the task force evaluating the bids to lean heavily on Morocco to find faults with the Moroccan bid.
The governing body's code of ethics prohibits government interference in all member countries' respective national soccer federations, and the bidding regulations also warn against "any undue influence on the outcome."
Several European countries' soccer federations -- including Russia, France and Belgium -- have announced they will back Morocco's bid, which is also likely to earn significant support from African nations.
The governments of Caribbean nations St. Lucia and Dominica have also pledged support for Morocco, though they are bound by the same FIFA rules against influencing their federations' votes.
ESPN reported in February that the race between the joint bid and Morocco was already much closer than expected, due in part to Trump's foreign policies -- including a travel ban against mostly Arab countries -- and rhetoric in describing poorer countries. Lingering resentment over the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into FIFA corruption has also hampered the U.S.-led bid's effort to attract votes.
The North American bid has the support of 16 voting nations in South and Central America, as well as Saudi Arabia.
Morocco's bid to host the 2026 World Cup must be allowed to reach the final vote without being disqualified in order to avoid any questions about the selection process, according to a senior FIFA official Reinhard Grindel.
Morocco is considered an underdog to the joint bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada, and the country's bid leaders have already voiced fears that FIFA inspectors could disqualify them from the June vote by giving insufficient marks to their tournament plans.
Grindel, a FIFA council member from Germany, told the Associated Press that inspectors must avoid disqualifying the Morocco bid in order to prevent any conspiracy theories from taking hold.
"If there are only two [candidates], the congress must have the chance to vote," said Grindel, president of the German federation which will help elect the host on June 13 in Moscow. "We don't need any rumours in such a process."
He said kicking out one of the bidders would mean "there always will be a rumour about the background of such a decision."
The governing body changed its selection process for World Cup bids after the 2010 vote, in which a now-discredited executive committee picked Russia and Qatar as future hosts against the advice of FIFA-appointed advisers who had flagged both as the highest-risk options.
Since then, FIFA has put together a task force to visit and grade candidates on a list of criteria, and empowered it to disqualify any bid averaging less than 2 on a scale of 0 to 5.
Section 9.1 (iv) of FIFA’s bid rules of conduct states that governments must refrain from any activities that may adversely affect the integrity of the bidding process — this ostensibly includes governments strong-arming, blackmailing or bribing other countries to secure their vote.
World soccer’s governing body is highly sensitive about perceptions of political interference into the World Cup bidding process following the litany of corruption scandals related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Only one African country has previously hosted the tournament — South Africa in 2010.
Morocco was initially regarded as a dark horse candidate, but the North African kingdom now looks to have a real shot thanks to widespread anti-American sentiment fanned by Trump administration policies.
Early last year, FIFA president Infantino warned that Trump’s ban on travellers from Muslim-majority countries was incompatible with tournament regulations.
However, as FIFA reminds Trump that blackmailing countries into voting for US World Cup bid is unethical, his interference with the selection process and his unexpected outburst may prove to be counterproductive to US bid as many countries will see his bullying tactics as a way of swaying the vote in favour of Morocco’s bid.