FIFA has a money problem. After years of scandals coming to the forefront of people’s attentions and assets being seized in criminal investigations, the organization is finally being hit where it hurts. According to the Associated Press, FIFA’s latest financials showed a loss of $122 million last year, and the organization now has had trouble finding new sponsors in the wake of seemingly repeated misappropriation of funds. While FIFA is still sitting on reserves of over $1 billion, losing this much money (and for the first time losing money in a fiscal year since 2002) is a major cause for concern. Even more concerning are that the next two World Cups are mired in controversy and, with both Russia and Qatar’s spotty human rights’ records, corporate money may be even harder to come by.
The United States has a World Cup problem. The US, despite not being an elite or even great soccer power, is a soccer cash cow. The growing passion for the sport – predicted for years – is finally taking in this country, as shown by TV ratings for foreign matches, sell outs for men’s and women’s national team games, and the sport entering the mainstream sports media conversation. Yet despite hosting the most successful World Cup ever in 1994, according to some financial metrics, the country has had issues winning a second bid to host the world’s most prestigious sporting event. Partly due to playing politics poorly, partly due to perceptions of the US politically, and partly due to alleged shady deals, the US lost out to tiny Qatar for the 2022 games. While some consider the US to be a favorite to land the 2026 games, other geopolitical factors such as a rising Chinese FA and even their neighbors to the north could complicate this calculus.
These factors are the only reasons why I can fathom the report coming from ESPN FC that US Soccer and Mexico FA officials are negotiating a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup, and FIFA is blessing these discussions.
A joint World Cup between the two countries overwhelmingly favors Mexico and is unnecessary for both FIFA and USSF to achieve their goals.
Mexico is a two-time World Cup host, so another successful bid would make them the only three-time tournament host. That alone may make many FIFA nations reticent to vote for any 2026 bid from Mexico, but a joint bid would likely lessen the discomfort with Mexico being preeminent among World Cup hosts. While soccer is king in Mexico – more so than the U.S. – the federation has seen its share of issues the past few years, including barely qualifying for the most recent World Cup. By attaching itself to a US bid, Mexico can benefit from the allure of US-based sponsors to co-host the event, then reap the financial rewards. In a sense, the US would be boosting its biggest CONCACAF rival; no doubt the Mexico FA will be able to build its program using the tons of World Cup money coming in. It may be harsh to say, but a Mexico World Cup could help the US remain behind Mexico for even more years to come if it allows El Tri to financially stimulate its soccer system.