NAmerica touts 'risk averse' World Cup bid amid Trump issues
FILE - In this Sunday, July 13, 2014 file photo, German players reach out to touch the trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Morocco 2026 World Cup bid has presented scarce details with six months until the vote, it was reported Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
By Rob Harris, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — With barely four months until FIFA votes on the 2026 World Cup host, Morocco got round to launching its bid on Tuesday.
There's now a campaign logo and social presence but still few details of how the North African nation will stage the first World Cup after the leap from 32 to 48 teams.
Far more active is the rival joint bid from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which was staging a simultaneous event in London on the latest leg of a nine-month-old campaign.
During the near-silence from Moroccan soccer officials, their North American counterparts have been dogged throughout by questions about the impact of inflammatory remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump on FIFA voters in June.
While wanting to promote a North American World Cup offering financial "certainty" and being "risk averse," the bid leadership on Tuesday was pressed on recent comments denigrating African nations during a White House meeting on immigration.
"We can't control the politics," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said alongside Canadian and Mexican colleagues overlooking the River Thames. "It will change over time. And we have got all the assurances we need from all three governments to support the bid in all areas that are important to FIFA."
Gulati said 70,000 pages of contracts are currently being signed.
As well as requiring tax exemptions on FIFA activities in the host nations, the governing body will also demand by March assurances of visa-free access to the tournament. That could run into conflict with Trump's hard-line immigration stance, including a ban on travel to the U.S. by residents of six majority-Muslim countries, which is being challenged in the courts.
"We have had complete support from the White House on our bid and the government guarantees we need," Gulati said. "Any participants in the World Cup will have access to the country."
As for visiting fans, Gulati stressed that "subject to security checks they will be allowed to participate."
The U.S. is partnering with Mexico on soccer just as Trump also presses ahead with construction of a border wall between the neighbors.
"In terms of the famous wall, I think football is stronger than that," Mexican soccer federation president Decio De Maria said. "We are working together to have this event. It's not the wall that's going to be part of this bid. It's football."
The United States, which hosted the World Cup in 1994 and failed with another solo bid for 2022, is the majority partner in the 2026 proposal. It is being lined up to stage 60 games, including everything from the quarterfinals onward, while Canada and Mexico would have 10 fixtures each.
"Might it change? Sure, it is possible," Gulati said when asked if the junior partners might gain more matches.
FIFA has scrapped the tainted system where a small group of officials decided the host and expanded the vote to the entire membership of 211 soccer nations.
While many countries have little chance of qualifying, they still have a stake in ensuring the World Cup is profitable, Gulati pointed out.
"FIFA's finances are heavily dependent on one event — the men's World Cup," said Gulati, who is also a member of the FIFA Council. "So there is a direct line between funding for programs around the world and what happens at the World Cup and the revenue generated."
With 48 finalists to accommodate, the 2026 World Cup is loaded with unprecedented risks for FIFA, just when it needs to be certain of turning a big profit after losing sponsors over corruption scandals.
"We think part of our case is the certainty we can provide for a first-ever expanded World Cup," Gulati said. "Being risk adverse both to members and to FIFA is part of our story. It's also one of unity."
Morocco, which has failed with World Cup campaigns and faced allegations of bribery, is touting the upside of the ambiguity surrounding its latest bid.
"We may surprise many people with our strong infrastructure and commercial offering," Moroccan soccer federation president Fouzi Lekjaa said in a statement, "and we will highlight our wonderful welcome, host cities and stunning locations. It promises to be a truly special bid."