COLUMBUS, Ohio – US Soccer president Sunil Gulati says his federation still isn't certain whether it will bid for 2026 World Cup hosting rights, or whether it might do so in partnership with Canada or Mexico.
“We haven’t made a decision about a World Cup bid. We won’t make a decision until we know what all the rules are,” Gulati told MLSsoccer.com and a number of other outlets in a roundtable discussion a few hours before Friday's World Cup qualifier between the US and Mexico (7:45 pm ET, FS1). “With regard to the election results, we respect the election and will work with whoever is in the White House – in this case, President-elect Trump and his team – if we decide to bid.
“A bid, if it should happen, relies critically on cooperation with the government in a number of areas. We look forward to working with the president-elect. He is an avid sports fan and we’ll wait to see if we bid and what the rules of engagement are.”
Though the United States is widely perceived to be an early favorite in the race for 2026 hosting, many factors play into the federation's decision, including FIFA's mulling of drastically growing or changing the format of its showcase global event.
“We have some very different opinions, even within our own board [of directors], about that,” said Gulati. “Conversations about feasibility, desirability, the need for a joint bid. Part of that discussion has to encompass what the format of the tournament is… The number of games may change. Clearly the format may change. But then also, the qualification changes and the number of hosts who are automatic participants and so on. Europe is running a multi-country Euro [in 2020] without host countries automatically qualifying. So all those things come into play.”
Over the summer Gulati reckoned that the election of Hillary Clinton, whose husband, former President Bill Clinton, worked on the USA's bid for the 2022 World Cup, would simplify a joint bid with one of the country's North American neighbors. But he believes that soccer has grown into such a large – and bipartisan – place on the American landscape that the federation could successfully partner with any elected officials.
“Given the importance of the game and the number of contacts that we have, we will have the ability to approach the right people,” he said on Friday. “In the White House today and in the White House on [January] 21st [the day after Trump's inauguration], there will be people in the building that love the game. Frankly, that's true in every statehouse across the country. That’s different than 20 years ago, or in 1988 when we were bidding [for the 1994 tournament] … And that will be true for any administration for the foreseeable future. And that's huge. That reflects the changing nature of the game and the importance of the game in the country.”
“If we decide to bid, this will be an American bid that the country has to be behind. The president doesn’t have to love a particular sport, any more than a governor does to support an Olympic bid or whatever it might be. But we fully expect that to be the case because if we are bidding, it will be good for US Soccer, it will be for US-lowercase-soccer, and it will be good for the United States.”