MOSCOW: As the 68th FIFA Congress broke for lunch, the main hall was suddenly abuzz with activity. Delegates walked up to each other and there was an air of old friends running into each other, while journalists approached administrators from their country to try and find out which of the two 2026 World Cup bids they were backing. As the Congress re-convened, a lot of people had tallied the numbers and knew what was going to happen. Unlike the last time FIFA convened to decide the World Cup hosts, there were not going to be any surprises.
As the results of the vote were shown on the giant screen inside the Moscow Expocentre, the United 2026 team in attendance — it included an African refugee from Canada, a woman footballer from the USA and an U-21 team player from Mexico — leapt up in joy. Of the 200 countries that had cast a vote, United 2026 had the support of 134. Morocco had 65 votes while Iran chose to vote for none of the bids. After a quick round of congratulating themselves and consoling the defeated Moroccans, they were on stage.
“Thank you, so so very much for this incredible honour,” said United States Soccer Federation chief Carlos Cordeiro. “Football today is the only victor.”
An analysis of the final tally reveals that it was the Asian countries who swung the vote for the United 2026. The vast majority of its 47 member nations voted for the victors — China, Oman, Qatar and Palestine were the notable exceptions. India — represented in Moscow by AIFF president Praful Patel, secretary Kushal Das and Executive Committee member (and Tamil Nadu Football Association president) Jessiah Villavarayar — predictably went for the United bid, as did all countries (except Oman) who are part of the newly-formed South West Asian Football Federation. Morocco garnered most of its votes from Africa and Europe. But perhaps, the most curious of voting choices were of the Russians, who cast their ballot for the United States-led bid.
In all fairness, the logical decision was always to go for the North American bid. After both teams had presented their cases and just before the Congress went to vote, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura summed up FIFA’s evaluation of both bids. The contrast was stark — just five of the stadiums that Morocco had involved in its plan exist now while their competitors just need minor renovations for their 16 stadiums. But perhaps the numbers that turned out to be most significant were in the United 2026 bid video telecast a few minutes earlier. Eleven billion dollars in profit. Fourteen billions dollars in revenue.
But one has to feel for the Moroccans. This is the fifth time they are attempting to secure rights to host. But once FIFA decided to expand the tournament to 48 teams, the world was always going to look down unfavourably on their ability to host the tournament. FIFA president Gianni Infantino said, after the Congress, that the increase in size meant instances of a single country hosting the World Cup would be rare in the future.
“I think a big country can host a 48-team tournament,” he said. “But it would almost be a shame, with the World Cup taking place every four years, if one country was to host. I don’t think it would be an issue to co-host a World Cup.”
Lost amidst all the hype was another significant development. Just before the 2026 vote, Infantino announced that a proposal to increase the number of teams at the 2022 World Cup, sponsored mainly by South American countries, had been withdrawn. Qatar can heave a sigh of relief.