Canada would host 10 games in joint 2026 FIFA World Cup bid with U.S., Mexico
3 nations look to host 1st World Cup with an expanded 48-team field
Canada and Mexico will only get a slice of soccer's biggest prize if the joint North American bid for the 2026 World Cup is successful.
The proposed blueprint calls for 60 of the 80 games in the new expanded tournament format to be held in the U.S. with 10 going to Canada and 10 to Mexico.
"The final decisions on those things are up to FIFA. It's their tournament. But that will be our proposal and that is our agreement together," U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati told a news conference atop the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
Gulati was flanked by Victor Montagliani, president of both the Canadian Soccer Association and CONCACAF, and Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria.
Their agreement calls for all games from the quarter-finals on to be held in the U.S., making for a set of ground rules that will likely leave Canadian and Mexican fans feeling like Oliver Twist.
Push to have all hosts qualify
But the good news for Canada, which has qualified just once for the men's World Cup — in 1986, when host Mexico was out of the CONCACAF qualifying picture — is the push to maintain the tradition of having the tournament host(s) automatically qualify.
Gulati said the issue of host qualification is ultimately up to the FIFA Council, but added: "What I can say is there has never been a World Cup where the host country or host countries have not been automatically qualified for the World Cup."
Montagliani echoed that view.
Mexico has been to 15 prior World Cup finals, including two as host (1970 and 1986). The U.S has been to 10, including one as host (1994).
Canada is currently ranked No. 109 in the world, compared to No. 16 for Mexico and No. 23 for the U.S. The Canadian men are rated 15th among CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The 2026 tournament, whose host is due to be decided by FIFA in 2020, will be the first using FIFA's expanded format.
The current tournament structure, which will be used in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, involves 32 teams and 64 matches. The new format will feature 16 groups of three with the top two from each pool advancing to a 32-team knockout.
The tournament time period will remain at 32 days.
Asked whether he expects bid competition, Montagliani replied: "Could be."
Other bidders unlikely
But it's unlikely. FIFA has said bidders from Europe and Asia will be barred from hosting the 2026 tournament because Russia is staging the World Cup in 2018 and Qatar has the showpiece in 2022.
Montagliani, a FIFA vice-president, sits at world soccer's inner table and will have done his homework.
And CONCACAF is due.
When 2026 comes round, there will have been 32 years and seven World Cups since the 1994 one held in the U.S. with Europe (3), Asia (2), Africa (1) and South America (1) having served as host.
The exact number of venues in the 2026 bid, as with many other issues, remains unclear. It will take another month or so before FIFA even issues its technical specifications for the bid.
"We've first got to obtain the World Cup and what we're most focused on right now is making sure that the World Cup comes to CONCACAF, comes to North America," said Gulati.
But he suggested that given the number of quality stadiums in the three countries, "we would generally be in favour of more venues than less."
Cities will bid to hold games
There would be a similar process, likely in each country, to what happened before the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, with cities bidding to be part of the tournament.
Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton served as host cities for the 2015 Women's World Cup — with Toronto electing to focus on the Pan-American games that summer. The World Cup final was held in Vancouver with semifinals in Edmonton and Montreal.
Choice of playing surface will be up to FIFA although Montagliani said the answer was probably easy to guess.
"Obviously every men's World Cup has been on grass. I would assume this would be the same," he said.
Canada's major stadiums, with the exception of Toronto's BMO Field, currently are all artificial surfaces.
Trump backs joint bid with Mexico
And he injected some politics into the discussion by saying the bid has the backing of President Donald Trump, whose talk of illegal immigrants and a planned border wall has raised the ire of many including his southern neighbours.
"We have the full support of the United States government in this project," said Gulati. " The president of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us to have this joint bid. He is especially pleased that Mexico is part of this bid and that's in the last few days we've got further encouragement on that."
In addition to the 2015 Women's World Cup, Canada has also hosted the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup, the 2007 U-020 Men's World Cup, and the 1997 U-16 Men's World Cup (now a U-17 event).