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SBD Global/January 12, 2017/International Football

U.S., Canada, Mexico Begin Talks About Joining Forces To Host 2026 World Cup

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Football leaders in the U.S., Canada and Mexico "are in talks about joining forces to stage the biggest-ever edition of the World Cup" in '26, when the field of sport’s most-watched event will be increased to 48 teams, according to Tariq Panja of BLOOMBERG. The U.S. "would be the tournament’s main host with the most games, including the final." Should the plan be approved, the 2026 World Cup would be "the first time three countries have staged the same event." CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said, "I think any one of the countries could probably put on a good show on their own. But I think there seems to be a prevailing thought that a confederation-type bid with multiple hosts is probably good for football." The bid has "a strong chance of success as Europe and Asia are excluded following the selection of Russia and Qatar as hosts of the next two editions." Montagliani "huddled with leaders" of the U.S. and Mexican football bodies at Zurich’s Hyatt hotel "late into the night on Monday, hours before FIFA confirmed" the expansion of the World Cup. Montagliani added that a formal proposal "is likely to be formulated and presented" to CONCACAF’s other members around the time of the next FIFA Congress, set for May in Bahrain (BLOOMBERG, 1/11). In London, Martyn Ziegler reported Montagliani "also insisted" that the U.S. and Mexico "could overcome possible bad blood" over incoming President Donald Trump’s statements about building a wall between the countries to allow co-hosting. Montagliani: "Football can trump politics -- no pun intended." Asked about a "three-way hosting arrangement," Montagliani said, "This is an opportunity for CONCACAF. In some regions, not only does co-hosting make more sense, it's the only sense, because it's not just the 48 teams, it's the training facilities, it's all the other infrastructure that's required. It's also an opportunity, when more countries share, to grow the game" (LONDON TIMES, 1/11).

'FOOTBALL IS GLOBAL': In Dublin, Ian Herbert reported FIFA President Gianni Infantino "hit back at European nations who are resistant to the new expanded 48-team World Cup," telling the "implacably opposed Germans that they always qualify and must wake up to the reality of this century, rather than live in the last one." Infantino: "Even if you organize a World Cup with two teams, one of the two teams would be Germany." He joked that 48 teams would help "get England" to the '26 finals. Infantino added, "But for many other countries, it's a chance to qualify. It is a chance to participate in a big event. It's not the 20th century any more. It's the 21st century. Football is more than Europe and South America. Football is global" (IRISH INDEPENDENT, 1/11).

DIVISIVE TOPIC: In Sydney, Dominic Bossi reported Football Federation Australia issued a "lukewarm response to FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams" while former Socceroos captain Paul Wade "slammed" world football's governing body, "questioning whether the motivation was financially driven." Wade questioned the motivation of FIFA, "suggesting it is more concerned with filling its coffers" by introducing more markets -- particularly the "lucrative and growing Asian region" -- into the tournament, boosting broadcast rights with 16 more games in the World Cup. He added, "I don't agree with 16 [extra teams]. I think there's got to be more incentive than that." Asia is "set to receive a major boost with the addition of as many as four extra places in the tournament, likely growing the allocation from 4.5 to 8.5." FFA CEO David Gallop said, "Australia is part of the Asian Football Confederation where the most significant growth and investment is occurring and we expect this trend to continue over the coming years leading up to the World Cup expansion" (SMH, 1/11).

AFC HEAD OPTIMISTIC: REUTERS' Amlan Chakraborty reported Asian Football Confederation President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said that FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams "will address Asia's long-standing demand for greater representation in the showpiece tournament." He said, "We believe that Asia, as the biggest continent, deserves more slots compared with the current quota, looking at the economic power it has, and the popularity for the game in Asia, in addition to the huge development for football at all levels." Similar optimism "prevailed across the Tasman Sea" with New Zealand Football hoping the 11-team Oceania Confederation, which has half a qualifying spot, "would finally be spared the uncertainty of a playoff." NZF CEO Andy Martin said, "We can only hope that means a direct entry as a minimum. We don't know the detail, but we are led to believe that it will mean at least one place" (REUTERS, 1/11). The AFP reported Chinese state media said that the move "could help" realize the country's "dream" of returning to the World Cup. China is 82nd in the FIFA rankings. Official news agency Xinhua said that the move "represented a big opportunity." A Xinhua commentary said, "Even if the levels of skill and strategy in the Chinese men’s football do not grow in leaps and bounds by 2026, the initial objectives of [China’s] football reform will have been realized. By then, with the added bonus of World Cup expansion, it is highly possible that China’s return to the World Cup will no longer be just a dream" (AFP, 1/11).

AFRICAN EXPANSION?: RFI's Christina Okello reported some pundits "are debating" whether the World Cup expansion and that of Euro 2016 last year could "revive hopes of seeing the Africa Cup of Nations also get a boost." Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou blamed "a lack of infrastructure" for the 16-team Africa Cup of Nations tournament "failing to mirror the expansion of the European Championship." Michigan State University professor of African history Peter Alegi said, "I would say that expansion in the African context would make it very difficult for most nations to be able to host it. You'd be looking at a handful of countries being able to host it on rotation, probably with South Africa and several of the North African countries being in pole position" (RFI, 1/10).
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