August 17, 2018

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Money talks in World Cup vote

North American bottom line translates into winning 2026 World Cup bid

In the end, money talked.

FIFA’s member associations had 11 billion reasons to say yes to the joint bid from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup. Morocco could only offer the world governing body of soccer US$5 billion in profit from the expanded 48-team men’s soccer showcase.

Given FIFA essentially uses its cash cow to fund everything else, the North American bid’s promise of a record $11 billion in profit resonated.

Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director, acknowledged the bottom line was a key factor in the bid win on Wednesday in Moscow.

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In the end, money talked.

FIFA’s member associations had 11 billion reasons to say yes to the joint bid from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup. Morocco could only offer the world governing body of soccer US$5 billion in profit from the expanded 48-team men’s soccer showcase.

Given FIFA essentially uses its cash cow to fund everything else, the North American bid’s promise of a record $11 billion in profit resonated.

Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. soccer president Delegates of Canada (center) hugs Steve Reed, president of the Canadian Soccer Association (second left) after the United bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup during the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press)

Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. soccer president Delegates of Canada (center) hugs Steve Reed, president of the Canadian Soccer Association (second left) after the United bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup during the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press)

Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director, acknowledged the bottom line was a key factor in the bid win on Wednesday in Moscow.

"Obviously the numbers, the profits, which were astounding," he said in an interview.

But he also pointed to the certainty of the bid’s 23 stadiums — already built, burnished and ready for action — including Toronto’s BMO Field, Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

The third plank was the prospect of a knock ‘em dead kickoff to the tournament — three games back-to-back-to back in Toronto, Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Factoring in an expansion to BMO Field — the bid document lists its tournament capacity at 45,500 — opening day could draw more than 220,000 spectators through the turnstiles.

How the North American bid carried the day

Who voted for which bid, who abstained, and who chose "none of the above."

So much for U.S.-North Korean detente.

The Koreans voted for Morocco rather than the winning joint bid of the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup.

South Korea cancelled out the North Korean ballot and the North American bid picked up 133 more votes to defeat Morocco 134-65 in a vote of FIFA member associations on Wednesday at the FIFA Congress in Moscow. The joint bid carried the day with 67 per cent of the vote in a single ballot.

Iran was the lone association to choose the “none of the above” option in the electronic voting.

The North American bid had CONCACAF, its home confederation, solidly behind it.

CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, voted 29-0 in favour of the North American bid. Cuba abstained.

”We knew we had their support,” Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director, said in an interview. “But they also knew that this was best for CONCACAF.”

It helped that the CONCACAF president is Victor Montagliani, a native of East Vancouver who was twice elected president of the Canadian Soccer Association and under whom the Canadian bid was launched.

Perhaps more surprising is the success the North American bid had in the African confederation (CAF). While Morocco got 41 votes from its continental neighbours, 11 went to the North America bid.

CSA president Steve Reed and Mexican counterpart Decio de Maria both spent time in Africa in the final days before Wednesday’s vote.

”We couldn’t say much, but we had a strong conviction of 10-plus (votes in Africa),” said Montopoli.

Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe all threw their votes the North American way.

Europe went 41-12 for the joint America bid with Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia and Turkey among those that sided with Morocco.

The Dutch apparently said they had a lot of Moroccans playing in their league and felt compelled to vote that way.

”Many member associations have many, many reasons to vote in different directions,” said Montopoli.

Russia, the 2018 tournament host, voted for the North American bid. Qatar, the 2022 host, chose Morocco.

Spain abstained, its attention diverted by news that national team manager Julen Lopetegui was headed to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid after the tournament. Unimpressed, Spain fired him on the spot.

Slovenia also abstained.

South America (CONMEBOL) voted 9-1 for the North American bid with Brazil opting for Morocco. Oceania was 11-0 in favour of the joint bid.

Asia (AFC) voted 33-11 for North America.

North Korea’s football federation picked Morocco just two days after U.S. President Donald Trump and Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in a historic summit in Singapore.

”This was not a vote in the United Nations,” said U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro.

Cordeiro said the North American bid had a “clear pathway to victory ... for some time.”

”And that triggered a strategy -- how to get there. We’ve been saying for some time now that step No. 1 was to basically consolidate our support at home, meaning the Western Hemisphere.”

The bid then looked to Asia for votes, finishing off in Europe and Africa.

”I would say about 10 days ago we had a sense that this was breaking our way ... We knew it was going to go well for us,” he told a media conference call.

The joint North America bid won 67 per cent of Wednesday’s vote at the FIFA Congress, defeating Morocco 134-65 with one country, Iran, voting for none of the above.

The joint bid pitched a near shutout in the Americas, winning 38 of 39 votes cast. Only Brazil opted for Morocco, which may have been a blessing given its recent history of World Cup stewardship.

Europe and Asia came through with the North American bid taking 11 African votes away from Morocco.

Delegates of Canada, Mexico and the United States celebrate with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (right) after winning the joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. From left: CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, Decio de Maria, President of the Football Association of Mexico, Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. soccer president. Steve Reed, president of the Canadian Soccer Association, appears behind Infantino. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / The Associated Press)

Delegates of Canada, Mexico and the United States celebrate with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (right) after winning the joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. From left: CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, Decio de Maria, President of the Football Association of Mexico, Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. soccer president. Steve Reed, president of the Canadian Soccer Association, appears behind Infantino. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / The Associated Press)

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tried unsuccessfully to play down the profit angle.

"Obviously the money is not the only element, obviously," he told a news conference later in the day. "We have to focus on the football, I’ve said it many times. But the money we generate can be reinvested in football."

Infantino, who used the day to announce he is running for re-election, then proceeded to talk about how FIFA’s revenues had risen on his watch.

For Canada, co-hosting the 2026 tournament will come 40 years after its lone appearance at the men’s World Cup. The Canadian men went 0-3-0 without managing to score a goal in Mexico in 1986.

Perhaps the happiest man in Canada was men’s national team coach John Herdman.

"It’s officially football Christmas for Canada. It’s here." said the English native. "It’s one of those mornings where you wonder if Santa’s gonna come, and he absolutely did this morning."

Herdman, whose team is currently tied with Lebanon at No. 79 in the world rankings, has yet to hear whether the three co-hosts will secure automatic qualification as is the norm. But given the increase in the size of the field and FIFA’s desire to squeeze every buck out of the tournament, it would be shocking if the host countries were not front and centre.

Herdman isn’t asking for handouts, saying he has his eye firmly on qualifying for 2022.

While Infantino said no decision had been made on automatic qualification, he said CONCACAF would have seven slots in 2026 — compared to 3 1/2 at present in the smaller 32-team field.

"It’s up to CONCACAF to look into that and to see how they want to organize their qualification for this. We’ll certainly have a discussion about that in the weeks to come."

But U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro said the issue of automatic qualification was a FIFA decision "that would be made in the passage of time.’

A primer on the 2026 World Cup

A look at some questions surrounding the men’s soccer showcase

Is Canada guaranteed three host cities?

Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium), Montreal (Olympic Stadium) and Toronto (BMO Field) were among the 23 candidate host cities in the North American bid book with FIFA expected to select up to 16 cities. Canadian officials say they will push to keep all three of their host cities. The bid group has been working under the premise of three cities in each of Canada and Mexico and 10 in the U.S.

Bid officials are keen on the idea of having three games back-to-back-to-back on the opening day of the tournament, using BMO Field, Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

That could mean more than 220,000 spectators on Day 1, given the bid group’s stadium capacity estimates include expanding BMO Field to 45,500.

Will Canada get automatic entry as co-host?

There has been no formal announcement yet that the three co-host countries will skip qualifying, as has been the tournament custom. But all signs point to yes, especially with the field expanded to 48 teams from 32.

Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s bid director, and U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro said the issue of automatic qualification is a FIFA decision which will come later.

But FIFA president Gianni Infantino said CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer for North and Centreal America and the Caribbean, will have seven slots in 2026, and it will be up to CONCACAF to decide how to deploy them.

CONCACAF got 3 1/2 entries for the 2018 World Cup, which has 32 entries. The top three teams in the final round of qualifying -- Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama -- booked their ticket to Russia while No. 4 Honduras lost an inter-confederation playoff with Australia 3-1 on aggregate.

With CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani a Canadian who was a key player in the successful bid and FIFA looking to sell as many tickets as possible, look for the host countries to be front and centre.

How many games will Canada get?

The current blueprint calls for Canada and Mexico to get 10 each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on. Cordeiro defended that split, calling it “the most optimal mix of cities and matches.” But FIFA could make changes to that breakdown.

When will the tournament schedule be out?

The full field likely won’t be known until the last week of November 2025 with the final draw expected to follow in the first week of December 2025. A match schedule, with venues but not teams, likely will be out earlier -- perhaps late 2024 or 2025.

What surface will the tournament be played on?

Montopoli said it will be 100 per cent natural grass, meaning temporary surfaces will have to be installed in stadiums with artificial turf. Eleven of the 23 stadiums under consideration -- including Commonwealth Stadium and Olympic Stadium -- have artificial surfaces. A number of training sites would also have to go to a grass surface.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf, prompting a human rights complaint from a group of elite female players. FIFA refused to budge and the complaint was eventually dropped, but not before the lawyer for the women’s players slammed FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.

How will the tournament work?

FIFA says the 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage. The competition will feature 80 games. FIFA says the new format will last 32 days, the same as the current 32-team tournament. There will be no reduction in rest days. And there will be a maximum of seven games for the teams reaching the final, the same as the current format.

Will the three co-hosts stage a Confederations Cup in advance of the World Cup?

FIFA is looking at changes to the Confederations Cup, a tournament that has traditionally served as a precursor to the World Cup. So that’s up in the air.

Vancouver Whitecaps star Alphonso Davies, who will likely lead the Canadian line for years to come, eloquently opened the North American bid’s presentation to the FIFA Congress.

Davies’ parents fled their home in Monrovia, Liberia, to escape a civil war. They ended up at a refugee camp in Ghana, where Davies was born.

"It was a hard life. But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in ... Today, I’m 17 years old and I play for the (Canadian) men’s national team. And I’m a proud Canadian citizen. And my dream is to some day compete in the World Cup, maybe even in my home town of Edmonton."

Alphonso Davies of Canada speaks at the FIFA congress. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / The Associated Press)

Alphonso Davies of Canada speaks at the FIFA congress. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / The Associated Press)

In its film presentation, Morocco billed itself "a country with a heart beating for football, a country where football is more than a sport."

A late entry to the 2026 hosting sweepstakes, Morocco was classy in defeat. It has now lost five bid campaigns.

On paper, the two bids were worlds apart, with FIFA’s own bid evaluation report rating the North American entry several storeys above Morocco. The African country planned to use 14 stadiums, nine of which had yet to be built with the other five due for renovation.

Fouzi Lekjaa, president of Morocco's Royal Football Federation presents his country's bid to host the 2026 World Cup at the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press)

Fouzi Lekjaa, president of Morocco's Royal Football Federation presents his country's bid to host the 2026 World Cup at the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press)

The North American bid was a well-oiled machine, spitting out information and endorsements like a baseball player working his way through a sack of sunflower seeds.

Mexico has twice hosted the World Cup, in 1970 and 1986. The U.S. hosted in 1994.

Canada failed in its lone previous bid — to host the 1986 tournament after Colombia pulled out as host.

The current blueprint calls for Canada and Mexico to stage 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60. But that is not carved in stone.

The North American bid offers up 23 candidate cities with Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal representing Canada. FIFA is expected to choose up to 16 cities. Canadian soccer officials say they will press to keep their three cities in the loop.

"There’s going to be some disappointments, unfortunately," said CSA president Steven Reed, echoing his U.S. counterpart.

Lawyer wants apology over World Cup surface

News that the 2026 men’s World Cup will be played entirely on grass means an apology is in order to top female soccer players, according to the U.S. lawyer who represented a coalition of elite female players in an unsuccessful battle to play on natural grass at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

News that the 2026 men’s World Cup will be played entirely on grass means an apology is in order to top female soccer players, according to the U.S. lawyer who represented a coalition of elite female players in an unsuccessful battle to play on natural grass at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

”Hosting a World Cup, women’s or men’s, is exciting and I’m happy for North America,” Hampton Dellinger said in a statement given to The Canadian Press.

”But we are much closer in time to the plastic pitch debacle of 2015 than the grass tournament of 2026. And given the artificial turf the women were forced to play on and the threats made against those who protested, I believe Canadian, U.S., and Mexico soccer officials still owe female players an apology.

”The national federations should also make sure that the hundreds of millions of dollars they will spend on soccer in the decade to come includes a dramatic increase in funding, including salaries, for the women’s game.”

Eleven of the 23 stadiums under consideration for the North American bid currently have artificial turf, including Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, both of which were used in the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Water is sprayed on the artificial turf before Switzerland and Ecuador play a FIFA Women's World Cup soccer match at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver, B.C., on June 12, 2015. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

Water is sprayed on the artificial turf before Switzerland and Ecuador play a FIFA Women's World Cup soccer match at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver, B.C., on June 12, 2015. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

The women had argued that making them play on artificial turf was discriminatory when the men play their showcase tournament on grass.

FIFA rules allow for tournaments to be played on artificial turf if it meets certain standards. But the men always play on the real thing at the World Cup.

Turf will not be an issue at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, which plans to play on grass.

The women eventually withdrew their human rights complaint in January 2015, ahead of the June start of the Women’s World Cup.

”The players are doing what FIFA and CSA have proven incapable of -- putting the sport of soccer first,” Dellinger said at the time.

FIFA eventually replaced the artificial turf at BC Place. A new padding was installed in Montreal.

U.S. star forward Abby Wambach, now retired, was front and centre in the human rights challenge. Canadian players were not part of the complaint. They were left out since the Canadian Soccer Association doubled as the tournament’s national organizing committee.

Dellinger represented the women for free.

The president of the Swedish Football Association, meanwhile, took to the FIFA Congress podium Wednesday to urge more financial support for the women’s game. Karl-Erik Nilsson noted that FIFA compensates clubs for using their players at the men’s World Cup but not at the women’s tournament.

Vancouver, which hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, will watch from the sidelines after the B.C. government cited concerns over the possible costs of being a host city. Chicago and Minneapolis also withdrew, citing similar worries.

FIFA’s hosting selection process was revamped in the wake of recent scandals enveloping the world governing body of soccer.

All eligible FIFA member associations were able to take part in the electronic vote. In the past, only members of what was then the FIFA executive committee — soccer’s version of the men’s 100-metre field at the Seoul Olympics — decided via secret ballot.

Infantino called the new voting procedure a "thorough, transparent" process.

BMO Field in Toronto is pictured on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. FIFA's member associations voted 134 to 65, with one no-vote, Wednesday in favour of the joint North American bid by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup over that of Morocco at the FIFA Congress in Moscow. (Christopher Katsarov / The Canadian Press)

BMO Field in Toronto is pictured on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. FIFA's member associations voted 134 to 65, with one no-vote, Wednesday in favour of the joint North American bid by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup over that of Morocco at the FIFA Congress in Moscow. (Christopher Katsarov / The Canadian Press)

Wednesday’s vote may trigger a new approach to hosting the tournament, with countries banding together to share existing resources.

Asked whether one country can host the 48-team behemoth, Infantino said a "big country, yes."

U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations, in between tweets on OPEC oil prices and how cutting military exercises in South Korea will "save a fortune."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took to Twitter.

"Congratulations to everyone who worked hard on this bid — it’s going to be a great tournament!"

Twitter: @NeilMDavidson

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