The United States notched its one and only win at the 2018 World Cup Wednesday, joining with Canada and Mexico to beat out Morocco for the right to host the 2026 World Cup.
The joint bid by the three North American countries received 134 votes to Morocco’s 65. Iran, fans of neither the U.S. nor Morocco, didn’t vote for either.
The 2026 World Cup, which will be the first in North America since the U.S. hosted in 1994, will be the first held in three different nations. The bulk of the games will be played in the U.S. though, with 60 of the 80 matches planned for American stadiums and ten each for Canada and Mexico. Every match from the quarterfinals on will be in the U.S., with the final slated for either New Jersey, Dallas, or Los Angeles.
The runaway success of the North American bid was no guarantee as little as four months ago, despite vastly superior infrastructure and the promise of billions in more revenue. The problem was Donald Trump. For a moment, momentum built behind Morocco from countries angry about Trump’s travel ban, “shithole countries” remark, and general antipathy toward the rest of the world.
Behind the scenes though, Trump played diplomat. He reportedly wrote letters to bid officials ensuring that “all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination.” Of those letters, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Strauss writes: “It’s uncertain how much any of that swayed the vote, but it was among the topics of conversation and contention leading into Wednesday’s congress.”
With the hosting rights for 2026 settled, there remains one major question to be answered about the tournament: Will all three host nations receive automatic bids?
It’s customary to give the host a free pass to the World Cup, but with three nations set to host in 2026 there’s some uncertainty about how automatic qualifying will play out eight years from now. Given Canada’s failure to qualify for all but one World Cup and the U.S. Men’s soccer team’s embarrassing failure to quality for this summer’s, it’s also a question many fans are eager to have answered.
The official decision hasn’t been made, but it seems very likely that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will play in 2018 without having to endure the rigors of qualifying. History indicates as much. The only other time more than one nation hosted the World Cup — in 2002, when Japan and South Korea joined forces — both countries were given automatic bids. The 2026 World Cup will also be the first to see 48 nations, rather than 32, in the tournament, reducing the value of the three spots that would be granted to the hosts. The decision on the automatic bids will likely be made next summer.