SBD/April 21, 2017/World Congress of Sports

Top Soccer Execs Believe '26 World Cup In North America Would Elevate Game

Gulati (m) said if the bid process is approved, a decision by June '18 is possible
Soccer may be on a literal and figurative roll in North America, but three leaders of the game say scoring the '26 FIFA World Cup for the region will take it to another level. “It’s a big opportunity for all of us,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Major League Soccer came out of the popularity and legacy of the ‘94 World Cup. Think of where we are 23 years later. We hope we’ll have a nine-year runway to take that and supersize it and work around that opportunity post-World Cup to build something bigger, better, stronger for all our stakeholders.” No one is taking the World Cup for granted, though. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said, “We were the prohibitive favorite once before, so I don’t want to be over-optimistic.” Gulati said if the expedited bid process is approved, there could be a decision by June '18 at the World Cup in Russia.

DIVVYING UP THE GAMES: As for who gets which games in the tripartite bid, FIFA VP and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said the infrastructure in the U.S. made it the natural choice to host the latter stages and final match. “I don’t think it was much of a discussion,” he said. “For once everyone looked at it from a game or region perspective instead of playing your house card. We took a holistic view of the tourney and the region, and think collectively this is in the best interest of football for the region.” Garber added, “It’s about shifting the power of this very, very powerful and valuable sport to the soccer infrastructure in this part of the world.” As to whether Mexico feels short-changed by the proposed schedule, Gulati said, “Mexico would play in the first round and they’d have their own matches. I hope they think those would be good. In the end everyone has been very pragmatic about it, the ability to bid 48 games without building new stadiums. We’re the only ones that can do that. It was a good discussion and a friendly one.”

SUPPORT FROM THE TOP: On support from the Trump administration, Montagliani said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a World Cup or the Olympic Games, you’ll always have to deal with an administration. With all due respect, it doesn’t matter if it’s this administration or another one. If you talk to FIFA staff, it hasn’t always been easy (dealing with Russia). ... The White House has given thumbs up for that bid. You have to deal with it. It’s part of our job.”

WHAT WENT DOWN: SBJ/SBD's Abe Madkour, Ben Fischer and Eric Fisher discuss the wide range of topics discussed during Day 2's panels at World Congress.

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