Excellent North American co-hosting bid also blunts criticism of controversial 2022 plans
When the United States, Mexico, and Canada submitted a combined bid to FIFA in April to co-host the 2026 #World Cup, much of the soccer world breathed a grudging sigh of acceptance. It was not so much acceptance that the three #North American countries had likely offered a sure-thing bid –they had certainly done that– it was a sigh of acceptance that the world was stuck with the flawed (some say disastrous) World Cup prior to the 2026 edition.
This is not a reference to next year’s World Cup.
The 2018 edition, hosted by Russia, will likely look and feel like the World Cups we are used to. This is about the one after that. The World’s most popular international tournament will feel awkward and out of place four years after Russia.
Controversial plans for Qatar in 2022
In 2022 the World Cup will be hosted by Qatar, the smallest country to ever host. Qatar is also a country that has never qualified for the tournament on its own (hosting the tournament automatically allows Qatar to field its national team in the competition). Additionally, Qatar is in the blisteringly hot middle east, where the customary World Cup schedule (June and July) risks the health of players, fans, and the many hangers-on who provide the event with its color and flair.
The solution to this overheating problem? The 2022 World Cup has been rescheduled to take place during late Autumn; November and December, interfering with highly valued club team and league schedules around the world.
How have things come to such an awkward and confusing state? Many blame corruption and bribery for Qatar being awarded the tournament at all. This is what leads to the grudging acceptance the soccer world feels toward the joint U.S./Mexico/Canada 2026 bid.
In submitting the 2026 bid, the United States effectively killed off any lingering momentum toward canceling or revoking Qatar’s 2022 plans. It had been widely perceived that it was the U.S. itself that was wronged when FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar. The decision created a stunning backlash that has seen top officials resign from FIFA amid corruption and bribery probes. Some are even threatened with possible jail time. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter is currently serving a six-year ban from the game over ethics violations.
There had been talk of revoking the 2022 decision and awarding the tournament to the United States. With the official submission of the 3-country joint-hosting bid for 2026, however, there is no longer any appetite to deal with the pain and havoc that a 2022 cancellation and restructuring would cause.
2022 will happen in Qatar in November. After that, 2026, barring some unforeseen or unexpected drama (the official announcement will not be made for a few years), will happen in North America, back in its usual time-slot, early Summer.
The big business of world soccer
The World Cup is a true world-wide event. The business of world soccer offers billions to those lucky enough to get a piece of the action. In the end fans will swallow their disappointment, forget about the controversies, and cheer their teams to victory. This acceptance is exactly what FIFA has been counting on.
Even United States fans will likely have short memories of a potential 2022 fiasco. By 2026, as co-hosts, the USA national team will likely be a force to be reckoned with. Current national team coach Bruce Arena recently told ESPN that by 2026, as co-hosts, the United States will finally be talking about the real possibility of winning a World Cup.
Standing on its own, the combined U.S./Mexico/Canada bid is actually an excellent hosting bid. The tournament will expand from its current 32 teams to a near-capacity 48. The way the three countries are likely to share the hosting duties make sense on many different levels. The very quality of this co-hosting vision is the simple reason that 2022, warts and all, will remain on its current course.
Fans around the world are breathing a grudging sigh, but they are likely to move on. The only question remaining is, will the truth ever be fully revealed? Will the corruption and ethics violations behind the 2022 bid ever really be known? Will anyone care in the long run? Yes, they will probably care, but life, and the tournament itself, will move on.