Sunil Gulati: “Regardless of who’s president to have governmental support is a critical part of a bid.”
By Christian Arnold
NEW YORK – Visible from the 102nd floor of One World Trade Center, through the haze of the afternoon sun, was Red Bull Arena. Look a bit north and MetLife Stadium comes in to focus.
They were fitting landmarks in the background as Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, announced alongside his counterparts from Canada and Mexico a joint bid between the three nations to host the 2026 World Cup. A somewhat surprising move, considering the political climate in the United States, but one that had been in the works for some time.
“For almost three or four years now we’ve been talking very quietly, very gently with our counterparts … about this dream of trying to bring the World Cup to North America and about sharing this World Cup,” Gulati said Monday.
The three-nation bid would put 10 games of the 80=game tournament in Canada, 10 games in Mexico and 60 in the United States. The quarterfinals and beyond would take place at sites in the U.S.
There were no specifics available about what cities would host games in the three countries or where the opening game or final would be held.
The head of soccer in the United States hopes the three-country bid gives them the edge over any competition that may arise in the future for the 2026 World Cup, but Gulati also hopes it serves as a unifier between the three nations.
“From a social perspective it’s a positive,” Gulati said. “We don’t believe that sport can solve all the issues of the world, but especially with what’s going on in the world today we think it’s a hugely positive signal. And symbol of what we can do together in unifying people, especially in our three countries.”
It was a message that was an underlying theme throughout the afternoon press conference that had another fitting landmark in the background – the Statue of Liberty – visible just off to the left side of the dais. Tensions have been high between the United States and Mexico since President Donald Trump took office in January, with things beginning to boil during the presidential election when then-candidate Trump making controversial comments about illegal immigrants.
However, the contentious diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico hasn’t hampered the joint bid, and it has even received support from the U.S. President.
“He’s fully supportive of the joint bid,” Gulati said, adding that Trump “encouraged the joint bid and is especially pleased with the fact that Mexico is participating in this joint bid with us. I think those are all positives.”
Gulati tried to steer clear of veering too deeply into the more complicated nature of America’s relationship with its neighboring countries, and rather tong-in-cheekily directed questions about comments President Trump has made in the past to White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Still support from the White House was an important step in moving forward with the joint bid between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The U.S. Soccer Federation began dialog with the government within the last 30 days, according to Gulati.
“Regardless of who’s president to have governmental support is a critical part of a bid,” said Gulati, who did not have direct conversations with President Trump. “I’m much more confident now that we have that going forward with all the technical parts. But the first part, which was the public relations part, the emotional part and the policy part that was also important in this case. We have gotten more than we could have asked for in terms of the commitment on that front.”
For Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani there was a more personal connection to being able to bring people and nations together through the joint bid.
“At the end of the day football is about people,” he said. “Whether it’s the players on the pitch or the fans in the stands or the fans watching the game. Football stories might be the best stories in the world. You have three federation presidents whose dads immigrated to the countries that they respectively live in who are now announcing a World Cup bid in North America, and welcoming the world to come here.”