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U.S.-Canada-Mexico 2026 World Cup bid plays nice in public, but knows the real game is different

For better or worse, the bid will be won with jet-setting around the world to wine and dine some of world sport's most unsavory characters. The bid's chiefs know their promises of clean money and transparent governance are seen by some in the global game as vices, not virtues.

The exterior of FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
The exterior of FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.Read moreMichael Probst/AP file photo

The heads of the North American 2026 World Cup bid committee hosted a conference call with the media on Monday. Not surprisingly, they were asked about whether President Trump's denigration of immigrants has hurt the bid's odds of success.

"We believe strongly that this decision will be made on its merits," U.S. Soccer Federation president and bid co-chair Carlos Cordeiro said. "This is not geopolitics — we're talking about football, and what is fundamentally, at the end of the day, the best interest of football and our footballing community. … We've had no backlash."

On the merits? And not geopolitics? When talking about FIFA? Really?

Isn't this the same organization that picked Qatar over the U.S. to host the 2022 World Cup, even though Qatar's bid was loaded with bribes and scandals? How could Cordeiro be so innocent?

Look below the surface, though, and you'll find he knows full well how the game is actually played.

Cordeiro, Canadian Soccer Association president Steven Reed and Mexican federation president Decio de Maria hosted their call from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they have been meeting with power-brokers from the Asian Football Confederation.

Last week, they were in Colombia at a FIFA Council meeting, then in Peru to meet with South American administrators. Before that trip, they went to Jordan, Switzerland and nations in southern Africa for more lobbying.

For better or worse, the bid will be won with jet-setting around the world to gladhand some of world sport's most unsavory characters.

To put it bluntly: The bid chiefs know that while their proposal should be a shoo-in favorite, its promises of clean money and transparent governance are seen by some in the global game as vices, not virtues.

They also know that rival Morocco will scrape for every advantage it can gain, fair or not. And they don't have to look far for proof that their strategy is working.

That's why even in an age of instant digital communication, personal interactions still matter.

"There's nothing better than face-to-face talks with each president of each federation," de Maria said. He offered a simple sales pitch: "It won't be a time to take risk."

You can be sure that some within FIFA's halls would gladly take risk if it means not having to clean up the global game's corruption. That's why Cordeiro was asked whether any FIFA voters don't want to come to the U.S. because financial transactions here would be put on the record — and potentially subject to government wiretaps and subpoenas. He was also asked if he expects any voters to ask for bribes.

"Absolutely no concerns on our part, and we haven't had any of those concerns raised by any of the members that we've met with thus far," Cordeiro said. "There's been no pushback to receiving us and talking to us very openly about the opportunity at hand. What you're getting at is not something that we have encountered."

Reed added to that: "I don't think that we're concerned about old politics. We're very comfortable where we stand."

Cordeiro noted that all of the bid committee's globe-trotting has been recorded "in a very open, transparent way" and sent to FIFA. The global governing body knows about every meeting the bid has had, and who has been present.

Was that more plucky innocence? Well, look below the surface again.

When FIFA checks those records, it will see that the North American bid has conducted an enormous amount of business. Cordeiro said the bid committee intends to travel to every corner of the globe to make its case between now and when the vote is cast on June 13.

This is the first time that the entire FIFA membership has voted on the World Cup host, instead of the old FIFA executive committee that had 22 members. The old adage that all politics is local local applies to international soccer too.

"We're taking it to every voter, and we recognize the challenge and the daunting task it represents," Cordeiro said. "Why shouldn't every member association have a say and a vote? … We are very supportive of that."

Later in the call, Cordeiro made some actual news. He said the bid has suggested to FIFA that there should be one game in each host nation on the tournament's opening day. Since 2006, FIFA's custom has been to have the host nation's opener be the only game of the first day. With three hosts in 2026, three games would make sense.

He also admitted that the proposed split of games between the three countries — 60 in the U.S. and 10 each in Canada and Mexico — could be changed down the road.

"When we came together more than a year go, we decided that this was the most optimal mix of cities and matches based on what the three countries together had available and were ready to offer FIFA," Cordeiro said. "We certainly are coming to that discussion with a common point of view, but ultimately that decision will be made by FIFA if we're awarded the bid."

Canada's case to host more games may have taken a hit when Vancouver withdrew from the bid because British Columbia's provincial legislature balked at FIFA's demands.

The principled stand drew some plaudits, but also plenty of complaints. Reed was asked about it twice on Monday. The questions carried extra weight because Vancouver is Reed's home, and the home of CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani.

Reid first said he he "can't comment on the actual decision that was made by the provincial government." He tried as hard as he could to shift the focus to the three Canadian cities still on the table: Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.

The second time, he cracked.

Asked if he's disappointed that Vancouver is out, Reed said: "Yes, to be perfectly honest. I would be disappointed, in that it's my back yard and I've lived there for most of my life."

That was as much as he allowed before returning to his preferred talking points. It was that kind of day, at least when the microphones were on and the recorders were rolling. Once the call ended, the real work resumed.