US President Donald Trump waded into the debate over hosting rights for the 2026 FIFA World Cup on Thursday, in a manner than only the current occupant of the White House can. The interpretation of and fallout from this tweet has dominated much of the global (non-US) news cycle the last 48 hours. For example, I was on an Arabic-language TV program based in Doha yesterday for viewers in the Middle East and North Africa where this was basically the sole point of discussion in the half hour program (FYI I don’t speak Arabic- my answers were translated into English).
The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2018
FIFA quickly responded – this tweet from Reuters Manchester-based reporter Simon Evans (who was based in Miami for nine years recently) summed up FIFA’s feelings.
FIFA respond to Trump tweet by offering a reminder of World Cup bid rules. Those rules warn against: activities by bidding country governments which “may adversely affect the integrity of the Bidding Process and create an undue influence on the Bidding Process.” Story to follow
— Simon Evans (@sgevans) April 27, 2018
It’s interesting and revealing that FIFA responded so quickly – the governing body for world football which has been mired in corruption scandals over the last decade and has been the subject of an extensive DOJ and FBI investigation rejects any interference of governmental interference in the sport YET regularly wants to see strong government support for its initiatives especially bids for major competitions, such as this. It can be argued Trump is in an aggressive manner stating the support of the US government for the US-led North American bid. However, in classic Trump style he threatens those who don’t fall in line.
The US-led bid which was considered a slam dunk four months ago has run into trouble in competition with Morocco (who have four times previously bid to host the FIFA World Cup and all four times have been denied) in recent weeks. The Moroccans have cultivated support among sub-Saharan African nations, other Arab nations and French-speaking countries, making their bid very viable from a vote-getting perspective. Meanwhile, the US bid has suffered from a lack of creativity or compelling reasons why the world’s biggest team sporting event should return to North America for the first time in three decades. Much like the failed 2022 FIFA World Cup bid by the US which was fronted by former President Bill Clinton, the US’ logic for being selected is almost entirely based on economics.
The excuse of the US’ diminishing global standing thanks to Donald Trump has been frequently given by those around the sport in North America – a set of people whose politics generally lean sharply to the left anyhow. While Trump’s behavior and presence hasn’t helped the US-led bid in any manner it appears, the effort was already in trouble due to arrogance, entitlement and other problems related to the governance of the sport in the United States. Trump’s ill-advised tweet might just now serve as an excuse to allow those who have let the bid fall into danger of failure off the hook.
The main appeal from American-based supporters of the united North American bid is that FIFA and its member nations can make more money playing in large American stadiums than in smaller Moroccan ones. Also an implicit threat that FIFA will be considered forever corrupt if the US-led bid isn’t chosen has been floated frequently. While the US authorities began investigating FIFA aggressively during the Obama Administration, the governing body for the sport in this country which has been unaffected by these investigations has its own legal problems. The US Soccer Federation currently faces multiple lawsuits including one for alleged antitrust violations as well a filling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that alleges that the US does not follow FIFA statutes with regards to the organization of its professional league structure.
These issues weight heavily on the minds of those around the game not in North America, and have impacted the viability of the US-led bid. But an effort has been made to blame any and all problems on the presence of Donald Trump, and in classic Trump fashion he just gave those looking to make this case a sword to stab him with.