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Bidding War: 2026 World Cup

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Several countries have expressed interest in hosting the 2026 World Cup, leaving the question of who is best to host it.

For the past several years, multiple countries have hinted at their desire to host the 2026 World Cup, and in this past week, various reports claim that Mexico is planning to formally announce its bid to host the competition. Mexico’s upcoming declaration sparked interest and debate amongst soccer fans as to where the tournament’s 2026 edition should be held. The debate featured some common misconceptions about the bidding procedure, which deserves to be clarified.

Under current FIFA rules regarding bidding for a World Cup (though they can in theory be altered prior to 2026) a confederation that hosts a World Cup cannot host either of the next two tournaments. Translation: a European or Asian country cannot host the 2026 edition, as Russia is scheduled to host it in 2018 and then Qatar in 2022. This matter may have been lost upon MLSsoccer.com as it dubiously alluded to Australia potentially hosting the World Cup in 2026. While geographically part of Oceania, Australia is regarded to be part of the Asian confederation by FIFA

The current FIFA rules therefore, leave only four confederations in contention for hosting in 2026: North America, South America, Africa, and Oceania. Oceania’s nations are virtually incapable of hosting a World Cup due to their lack of necessary infrastructure. For example, the largest stadium in the OFC confederation is New Zealand’s Eden Park, which has a capacity of 55,000. This is a problematic issue as per FIFA requirements any stadium hosting the opening game and final must have at least an 80,000 seat capacity.

Several South American nations, meanwhile have sufficient infrastructure and resources, however no South America country is likely to bid for 2026.

The reason for this is that a successful bid for 2026 would render South America unable to host the tournament in 2030. The 2030 World Cup will be the 100th year anniversary of the world’s most watched sporting event. Uruguay, host of the first ever tournament, will seek to host it again in this historic year. Since Uruguay would not be able to host a modern World Cup (with its higher standards) by itself, it will seek to launch a co-bid with neighbors Argentina.  

1930 World Cup. Courtesy of FIFA.com.

Eliminating South America only leaves Africa and North America as viable host confederations. The lone African nation to show interest in hosting the tournament in 2026 is Morocco. On the North American side, the trio of Canada, Mexico, and the United States have all alluded to bidding for hosting rights. Interestingly enough though, the expected reverberations from the 2022 World Cup may have a significant impact on who FIFA choose to give the 2026 edition to.

While Qatar could still be stripped of its 2022 hosting privileges, it appears increasingly unlikely to happen. If it were to happen though, the United States would likely slot in as host, consequently barring Mexico, Canada, or any other CONCACAF member from hosting in 2026. Under the assumption that Qatar will remain as the host, the 2022 World Cup should be a financial failure (relatively speaking). 

When Qatar hosted the 2011 Asian Cup, average attendance was miserable compared to other recent stagings of the tournament.

Host(s)
Year
Average Attendance
China
2004
29,302
Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam 
2007
22,632
Qatar
2011
12,668
Australia
2015
22,053

The attendance numbers are also shockingly low considering the fact that group stage tickets could be bought for as little as five dollars. Adding to Qatar’s woes was the fact that between 3,000-10,000 fans with tickets were denied entrance into the stadium during the final. Police were reportedly violent with those trying to enter and they confiscated pictures of the hectic scenes from reporters. In short, Qatar was ill-equipped to host the Asian Cup and proved unable to handle organizational factors that a good host nation must posses.


Looking ahead, many fans have found a World Cup in Qatar undesirable, citing its scorching climate, and institutional discrimination against the LGBT community, among the things that will likely make it a disaster of a tournament. Summer temperatures approaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit, have resulted in FIFA moving the Qatar World Cup to winter, something that has never happened before. In addition the original plan to air condition the stadiums has proved unfeasible, leaving a winter World Cup as the only option for Qatar. This is a massive inconvenience to European leagues and MLS, which have crucial games scheduled during winter. Furthering the ominous signs for 2022 is that thousands of workers, who live in “modern-day slavery” conditions, are expected to die in the building of the proposed stadiums. Adding to the disarray is that Qatar has conceded that it cannot build the 12 stadiums it originally promised to build, and have essentially forced FIFA’s hand in allowing only eight or nine locations to be used.

Lusail City, supposede host of the 2022 final is not even built yet. Getty Images.

The failures of Qatar to produce what it originally promised only makes one wonder what shortcomings await in the future. Qatar will undoubtedly look to handle itself better come 2022, however, the issues thus far have not quelled fears. In fact, only heightened them.

So, what does this have to do with who gets the hosting rights for 2026?

Well, simply put, FIFA will likely try to make up for its lost revenue in 2022 by making the most out of the 2026 tournament. This fact makes Morocco an unattractive bid compared to the larger, more hospitable locations of Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. Adding to CONCACAF’s favor is the fact that North America last hosted the tournament in 1994, while Africa hosted it more recently, in 2010.


Discerning who has the edge between the North American trio is rather difficult as all three would make good hosts and bring in massive amounts of revenue. Mexico has one of the largest fan bases in the world, averaging 82,000 fans per game in its 2014 World Cup qualifiers. This was the highest attendance in the world, with England coming in second at 80,000 spectators on average. This clearly indicates a strong fan base at home; and when you add the fact that Mexico is a common tourist destination, a World Cup there is a sure financial success. 

A potential concern, however, is the perceived high crime rate in Mexico. While the drug cartel is present and dangerous in Mexico, the numbers paint a less bleak picture. The crime rate in Mexico is not as bad as the common person thinks, with Mexico being safer than 2014 hosts Brazil. Indeed, Mexico’s safety index is 49.63 (the closer the number is to 100, the safer the country is), while Brazil’s is 29.17. The crime index numbers also tell the same story with Mexico’s index being 50.37, and Brazil’s being 70.83 (the higher the number is, the more crime the country has). So, if Brazil could host a successful World Cup, then Mexico likely can as well.

Canada and the United States also have healthy tourist rates, meaning that unlike Qatar or Morocco, millions more people would be eager to come attend a World Cup in those countries. Of course, high tourist rates don’t equate to those visitors being soccer fans. However, it does tell of a country’s ability to attract and host visitors from around the globe; a key attribute for a World Cup host to have.

Country
Tourists in 2014
Qatar
2,826,000
Morocco 
10,283,000
Canada
16,537,000
Mexico
29,346,000
United States
75,011,000

Numbers courtesy of WorldBank.Org.

Going against Mexico is the fact that it has already hosted the tournament twice. Since the turn of the century, FIFA have shown a desire to give the World Cup to new countries, so it would likely hesitate to allow Mexico to be the first ever country to host the tournament three times. In 2002, Asia hosted the World Cup for the first time ever, 2010 saw Africa host it for the first time, and 2018 is to see Eastern Europe host it, while 2022 is to be the first Middle Eastern World Cup.

Looking farther north, Canada have never hosted the World Cup— at least not on the men’s side at the highest level. In addition to the memorable 2015 Women’s World Cup, Canada also hosted the men’s Under 20 World Cup in 2007, which set the record for the number of tickets sold at a U20 World Cup. The fact that they have successfully hosted previous FIFA tournaments gives Canada a solid argument for why it could and should host the men’s tournament in 2026.


However, the only downside to Canada’s bid is that it may have to rely on turf fields like it did in other tournaments. U.S. star Abby Wambach was quoted as saying that “playing on turf fields is a nightmare” and is more likely to cause injury. However, FIFA replied saying that in colder climates like Canada, turf fields are more reliable than other surfaces, and thus were a necessity for the tournament. This means a men’s World Cup in Canada would also likely deal with the same issues.

That leaves good old ‘Murica. As hosts in 1994, the U.S. set seemingly unbreakable attendance records. The U.S. averaged 69,000 fans per game, and this record still stands despite the fact that the tournament had 12 fewer games played in 1994 than in every World Cup since then. With soccer becoming increasingly more popular in the States, a World Cup in the U.S. would almost assuredly be the most financially profitable tournament of all the North American options.

Adding to the U.S.’ favor is that high ranking FIFA officials would favor having a World Cup in the U.S. The only foreseeable downsides would be that the U.S. already hosted the tournament, and like Canada, teams would have to travel a great distances due to the large size of the country. That being said, theses concerns are minor compared with those of future hosts like Qatar, or even past hosts like Brazil.

While they would not be infallible hosts by any means, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. all have strong cases to make when it comes to hosting the World Cup in 2026. Each of the three candidates have strong arguments for why they should host the competition, although what remains a certainty is that a World Cup in CONCACAF would be more welcome and successful than one in Qatar.

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

SQuiz
Which country did not bid for the 2022 World Cup?
Created 4/20/16
  1. Australia
  2. South Korea
  3. Kazakhstan
  4. Japan

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