U.S.-led 2026 World Cup bid leaders seek meeting with Donald Trump
MANAMA, Bahrain -- Now that the United States-led bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to North America is well established as the prohibitive favorite, bid organizers are making plans to keep on rolling.
The next big step? A trip to the White House.
With persistent questions about how President Trump's proposed border wall might affect a partnership between U.S. Soccer and the Mexican federation, as well as the need to show FIFA full government support, leaders of the bid are hoping to arrange a meeting -- and photo opportunity -- with the president within the next month or two, officials with knowledge of the plans told ESPN.
The purpose of the trip is to make it clear, both to FIFA and any other potential bidders, that Washington is backing the proposal by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to bring the World Cup to the continent for the first time since 1994.
Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, hinted at such a plan during a news conference here on Wednesday after CONCACAF completed its congress meeting. Gulati also reiterated that President Trump has previously communicated his approval of the joint bid.
"The president is fully supportive," Gulati said. "My guess is that in the not-too-distant future you'll see further confirmation of that from Washington, and in Washington."
Gulati was joined on the dais by Mexican federation president Decio de Maria, Canadian federation president Steve Reed and Victor Montagliani, the president of CONCACAF.
All were optimistic after FIFA's council approved their proposal to fast-track the awarding of the bid, moving up the timeline considerably from the original date in 2020.
Now, any country interested in bidding for the 2026 tournament must express interest by Aug. 11. It is possible the U.S.-led bid will be unopposed, as only countries from Africa, Oceania or South America are allowed to bid and, to this point, no other nation has expressed a public interest.
In September, FIFA will then provide a list of technical requirements to the North American bid (and any other bid that might arise); by March, the bids must show they have secured the appropriate guarantees for stadiums, security, infrastructure and other items. The bid will then be officially confirmed at FIFA's congress next June in Russia.
"Everything is big in the United States, and in our region, in so many ways," Gulati said, noting that the 1994 World Cup still holds the total attendance record in World Cup history.
"It's a market of half a billion people," he added. "I think this would be unparalleled."
Many questions still remain, of course, and De Maria, in particular, has faced criticism from Mexican fans about the division of games: 60 for the United States, with 10 apiece for Canada and Mexico.
De Maria said he has heard the complaints, but feels there was little choice; Mexico wanted to be part of another World Cup and was faced with a choice of competing against the United States for a solo bid or making concessions to partner with its continental colleagues.
"If 10 games are too low, too many, too much -- I think it's a secondary thing," he said. "Could it be zero? Could it be 20 or 30 or 40? It's no longer a discussion. ... We are going to have partners."
Asked about President Trump's proposed border wall, De Maria shrugged.
"I think football is stronger than that," he said. "We are going to try to make a huge event out of football. ... I think we have to leave those things out."
Sam Borden is a Global Sports Correspondent for ESPN, also covering soccer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamBorden.