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FIFA financially secured by tournament decision

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: June 13, 2018

Following the debacle of the Sepp Blatter induced double vote announcement in 2010 (for the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups), FIFA’s vote for the right to host the 2026 tournament was supposed to be a return to normality. Indeed, following new president Gianni Infantino’s electoral reforms, the voting process was supposed to be better governed, notably in terms of the process’ transparency and openness.

However, there has long been a sense that a hidden agenda was at work that would ultimately see the combined North American bid being successful. Back in 2010, the United States (US) had made an ill-feted hosting bid; once it became apparent that various improprieties had been involved, the US reacted by sanctioning legal action against several of the people involved. This may have been a not so subtle form of pressure intended to force FIFA to put the country in pole position for hosting the 2026 event.

Consequently, for many people the US has long seemed like a shoo-in, not least Infantino. The current FIFA president has often championed the country’s bid, which was unsurprising given the size, sophistication, stability and potentially lucrative nature of a US-based tournament. Infantino is soon due for re-election and has made numerous promises about his spending plans for world football.

A US-led event was always likely to generate the revenue streams necessary to underwrite his electoral manifesto. However, almost out of nowhere, and in many ways completely unexpectedly, Morocco entered the fray. Whilst the North African nation has long since flirted with hosting the World Cup, there was initially little indication that the country would seek to go head-to-head with the US for 2026.

However, Morocco’s aspirations clearly haven’t faded, whilst the country has recently been cosying-up to Russia. As such, some observers have speculated that there has been some Russian prompting of Morocco behind the scenes, and that the bid has been an opportunistic attempt to undermine the US.

There will have been a huge sigh of relief from many people when the US-led bid was announced as the host of the 2026 World Cup. For FIFA president Gianni Infantino, this was always his preferred option and provides both his presidency and the governing body in general with the financial stability it needs.

After years of fighting corruption and paying legal bills, this is the safe-bet option. For the combined bidding nations, this will be seen (especially by Donald Trump) as being global vote of confidence for the US and for western nations in general. It suggests that the balance of international support, at least for the time being, remains with the US and its allies.

One wonders though about the extent to which Trump’s very public threats, warning errant nations not to vote against the US, may have had on countries’ voting behaviour. Indeed, one also wonders whether a more transparent approach to voting has simply shifted FIFA away from the threat of interventions by corrupt officials to interventions by powerful nations exerting control over other nations.

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Simon is Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester (UK), where he is also a Co-Director of the Centre for Sports Business. He is also a Founding Co-Director of the China Soccer Observatory and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham (UK). He has worked in football across the world, for various organisations including companies, federations, and governments. He tweets via @Prof_Chadwick