The United States men’s national team infamously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which starts this week in Russia. But on Wednesday, FIFA — the sport’s international governing body — guaranteed that the U.S. will be an integral part of the future of global soccer when it awarded the 2026 World Cup to the combined North American bid of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
FIFA’s members voted for the United Bid over Morocco’s challenge, 134-65.
The men’s World Cup hasn’t been held in North America since the United States hosted the 1994 competition, though Canada hosted the women’s World Cup in 2015.
While this is clearly a boost for soccer in the United States, far less certain is what this means for our nation’s currently-strained international relations.
President Trump supported the bid, and according to the New York Times, he offered assurances — via three letters he provided to U.S. soccer officials, all addressed to FIFA president Gianni Infantino — that fans, players, and officials won’t be impeded from entering the U.S. for the World Cup in 2026 if their team qualifies, as long as they have the proper paperwork.
This year’s lineup of World Cup participants includes only one country targeted in Trump’s racist travel ban — Iran. However, the field will expand from 32 countries to 48 countries by 2026, which may open the doors for other countries on the travel ban to make it into the field. Syria, for example, was incredibly close to qualifying for the 2018 competition, and North Korea made an appearance in 2010.
In one of his letters, Trump assured Infantino that, for the World Cup, “all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination.”
His assurances are not specific of course, and Trump’s promises have a life expectancy of minutes, but U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro told the Times that it was nevertheless “pretty powerful” to have Trump offer his support and cooperation in writing.
Of course, even if Trump were elected to a second term, he would be out of office by January 2025, more than a year before the North American World Cup would begin.
The news comes on the heels of Trump’s feud with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following last week’s G7 summit. The dustup has many bracing for a trade war with a country that has historically been one of the U.S.’s closest allies.
The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. is perhaps even less cordial ever since Trump launched his campaign in the summer of 2015 by calling Mexicans “rapists” and promising to build a wall along the southern border that Mexico would pay for. (Mexico will not pay for the wall, and the wall still does not exist.)
But despite Trump’s continuing diplomatic contortions, the United Bid was too strong for FIFA to pass up. Most of the stadiums and infrastructure needed for a tournament of this scale are already in place, and the United Bid promised FIFA an $11 billion profit. Morocco wasn’t nearly as prepared, which was a huge concern, particularly considering the event’s upcoming expansion.
Plus, FIFA members viewed the bid as an opportunity to distance itself from the corruption of its bidding process eight years ago, in which Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup over the U.S. Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted many FIFA officials for corruption, and FIFA has announced a series of reforms — including making the voting process for host nations more transparent.
Athlete Ally, an organization that aims to end homophobia in sports, released a statement on Wednesday praising FIFA for “taking an important step to ensuring human rights are protected, respected, and remedied in the bid process for mega sporting events.”
There are still plenty of reasons to be skeptical of FIFA and of Trump’s vague promises of non-discrimination in 2026. After all, that’s a full eight years away, and at the rate this administration is going to alienate everyone but brutal dictators, there is no telling what domestic and global politics will look like.
But soccer fans in North America are still free to celebrate. For at least today, it’s exhilarating to imagine a future without Trump in office, where the U.S. is cooperating with our neighbors to the north and south, and where visitors from all around the world are welcomed into the country with open arms.
Oh, and it will be pretty fun to host the World Cup, too.