The process of putting together a World Cup bid is just that: a process. There are so many discussions, so many hurdles to clear to prepare for the decisions to come. Long before the formality of it all is revealed to the world, so much work is done behind the scenes, away from the bright lights that will hopefully come.
In some ways, that process came to fruition for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati on Monday, but the next step is one that will require more work and more commitment than ever before.
On Monday, U.S. Soccer joined the Canadian Soccer Association and the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol in unveiling a plan for a unified joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. With it, comes a plan, one that will see the U.S. host 60 games while Mexico and Canada host 10 apiece. The tournament would be only the second joint-hosted World Cup in the competition’s history, joining the 2002 edition in Japan and South Korea
The unveiling was a long time coming, in many ways, and it now serves as an important benchmark for a long road ahead. There were hurdles, sure, but Gulati is confident in the road ahead.
“A World Cup in North America with 60 games in the United States will be by far the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA in terms of economics. The economic power of the American market, we have 500 million people in this country. This will be an extraordinarily successful World Cup on financial and economic ground and that’s critical because most of FIFA’s revenues come from one event.”
Gulati says there was a lot of negotiation to it, as talks have been going on for “a long time”. Until recently, none of the countries had committed, leaving all three open to solo bids. All three have the infrastructure, the stadiums in place, but the key was giving themselves the best chance to succeed.
Eventually a decision was made and, finally, the pieces came together. Concessions were made, sure, but each nation understands the gravity and commitment that comes with coming together for such a big event.
“It’s safe to say both countries would have liked more (games), but I think they’d say it was hard to sell me on 60,” Gulati said. “64 had a nice ring to it on my board because it would have been a full tournament from earlier, but there were discussions and negotiations, but a very friendly one.
“If you have a 90 percent, or whatever the numbers are, I’m not saying it’s 90 percent, of getting 75 percent of the tournament or a 75 percent chance of getting 100 percent, what do you do? That was part of the analysis, The other part is that we think there’s a benefit, beyond football, beyond soccer, to a joint bid, especially with Mexico, which is fully supported by the president, and we think that’s a big plus. ”
Getting President Donald Trump in on the bid was a major part of the process, but far from the first. Within the past month, though, Gulati said it became time to bring Washington in. They were unable to communicate with the president directly, but Gulati and his team were able to get through in several ways to brief the president on their intentions.
Given all that’s going on with the world, that process took time but, eventually, the support came. With President Trump included, as well as backing from Canadian and Mexican officials, the door swung wide open for Monday’s announcement.
“We outlined, through someone who communicated directly with the president, what we wanted to do in terms of bidding with Mexico and Canada,” Gulati said. “The messages we got back after a couple of meetings and some written correspondence is that the president encouraged us to go forward with it and said he was supportive of it and was very pleased Mexico was a part of it.
“You’re always concerned about things, but in both countries, Canada and Mexico, I think they got an unofficial or semi-official okay to go forward, and that’s important regardless of who’s president. To have governmental support is a critical part of a bid. I’m much more confident going forward with the technical part… We got more than we could have asked for in terms of the commitment on that front.”
With all of the ducks in a row, the U.S., Mexico and Canada now focus on the game ahead. World Cup host selection is a long, tedious process, one which won’t be complete until May 2020. The CONCACAF trio got ahead of the game with FIFA meetings looming, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Everyone will have to meet competition standards in the years ahead, working together to make the bid as attractive as possible.
As for the competition, Gulati has an idea of what’s ahead. African and South American nations are eligible to bid, but Gulati says all indications say the latter federation expects to wait for 2030. Morocco, meanwhile, could be a contender, but Gulati doesn’t want to look too far ahead just yet.
“I don’t think it was ever a question of if it couldn’t work. It was just a question of if it makes sense for us,” Gulati said. “It could always work. If we didn’t have support from the White House, it couldn’t work, but we have that. We’ll make it work and we always thought it could work and it could be successful.
“It’s not just words when I look out there and we talk about welcoming the world. Those things are important.”