'A slap in the face for many Mexicans': our writers on the 2026 World Cup bid

Bryan Armen Graham, David Rudin and Duncan Tucker
Mexico has a passionate fanbase north and south of the US border. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Would it have been better for your country to bid on its own?

David Rudin, Toronto based football writer: Good news – Canada’s only liable for 12.5% of this boondoggle. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, you have located the central tension of this joint bid. Insofar as Fifa hosting rights are really just an excuse to sacrifice much of a nation’s sovereignty for a month and spend ungodly sums, Canada has dodged a bullet here. The nation would have to waste a lot of money on soccer-specific stadia to host 80 matches, so this bid is definitely preferable to the alternative of Canada hosting on its own. That, however, does not make it a good idea.

Duncan Tucker, Guadalajara-based football writer: It would have been a more popular move but also a riskier, more complicated path to take. Mexico would have been bidding against a formidable adversary in the US and would have been required to invest a lot more in organisation and infrastructure if it had won the bid on its own. A joint bid diminishes the risks of corruption and security problems — two major concerns in Mexico today. Co-hosting would also enable the involvement of millions of Mexicans who live north of the border, without excluding those at home.

Bryan Armen Graham, Guardian US deputy sports editor: A US bid was always going to be a favorite with Europe and Asia sidelined. The 1994 tournament it hosted, which set a World Cup attendance record that still stands with nearly 3.6m spectators (for only 52 matches), offers a tantalizing proof of concept for Fifa. It’s one of the few countries on the map with enough world class stadiums to host the event tomorrow if it needed to, which puts it in step with the infrastructure-ready leanings of the day. One can only wonder if the US Soccer would have put forth a single-country bid if not for the new government’s America First bluster. A three-country bid seems designed to put forth a message of inclusion meant to counteract Trump’s rhetoric – and should be enough to ensure a second World Cup on US soil.

Is it fair that the US gets most of the games?

DR: Canadians have seen this film before and recognize that this is an American bid dressed up as a joint enterprise. That is not unfair per se. If the US wants to handle the bulk of hosting costs, it seems fair that it hosts most of the games. That said, US Soccer is hardly trying to pretend that this is a meaningful partnership in the style of South Korea and Japan in 2002. Canada and Mexico hosting at least a quarter-final each may have been a sop to those constituencies. The primary funder, however, gets the spoils.

DT: It rankles with Mexicans that their country, which boasts a much richer footballing tradition than the US, is being treated as its junior partner. With tensions already running high between both nations during the Donald Trump era, the plans for Mexico to host just 10 out of 80 games and none from the quarter-finals onwards have come as a shock and another slap in the face to many Mexicans. Their enthusiasm dampened, some fans have even called on Mexico’s Football Federation to withdraw from the bid unless they are guaranteed more games. On the other hand, some have argued that the US could have launched a solo bid and still won, leading Mexico (and Canada) without any games. “The United States doesn’t need us to host a World Cup,” the Mexico FA president, Decio de Maria, said on Monday. “That is the message. On day one, we didn’t have a single game. Today, we have 10.”

BAG: The United States compensates for the tradition gap with enough stadiums and infrastructure-ready cities to host two World Cups concurrently, so it’s no surprise they negotiated the lion’s share of the matches when the parties drafted the memorandum of understanding signed at Monday’s announcement. After coming up short in the tainted vote for the World Cup that ultimately went to Qatar – and squandering a reported $8m in the process – the priority of efficacy over equity, whatever that is, is understandable. (That Mexico won’t host any games beyond the round of 16 feels more than a touch greedy, though.)

Does the infrastructure exist?

DR: Minimal infrastructure is required to host 10 group-stage matches. Canada has airports, roads, and stadia. Canadian soccer officials will also manage to locate the grass surfaces they couldn’t be bothered to provide during the Women’s World Cup. The main perk of being the bid’s junior partner is that we won’t be on the hook for the full array of infrastructural follies Fifa normally extorts from the host. Soccer’s governing body can be expected to leverage some silly spending, but it’ll hopefully be less painful than the 1976 Olympics, which were only paid off in this millennium.

DT: Mexico might have struggled to host 80 matches by itself but easily has enough infrastructure for 10 fixtures. Mexico’s three biggest cities all have international airports and world-class stadia, including the iconic, 87,000-seater Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, which was renovated last year to make it suitable for hosting NFL games. Other likely venues include Monterrey’s 51,000-capacity BBVA Bancomer stadium, which was only inaugurated in 2015, and Guadalajara’s sleek Estadio Omnilife, which opened in 2010 and seats 45,000.

BAG: If there’s one thing America has, it’s stadiums. Tricked-out, taxpayer-funded pleasure palaces are our stock in trade and that fleet will no doubt come in handy here. As US Soccer president Sunil Gulati put it during Monday’s announcement: “We have the luxury of being able to pick from stadiums and cities. It’s one that very few countries in the world have. And given what’s happened in the last few World Cups and some of the Olympic Games, the thought of building sport facilities that don’t have a long-term use is not one that’s particularly inviting for anyone.”

How have previous World Cups gone down?

DR: The 2015 Women’s World Cup was reasonably well managed. The biggest complaint – its use of artificial turf – was galling precisely because it was the product of political indifference more than incompetence. Seeing as Fifa and its constituent federations tend to treat men’s and women’s soccer differently, the real question is how much can be extrapolated from the events of 2015. In this case, the Canadian Soccer Association might overcome scheduling conflicts with other events to secure the nation’s largest venues for the men. That’s bad news for soccer fans in Moncton, New Brunswick, but not an international cause for concern.

DT: The 1970 and 1986 World Cups were both classics, with Pelé and Diego Maradona captivating fans as they led their respective nations to glory. The former tournament set an average attendance record that has only been beaten three times since. Mexico then showed it could prevail in adverse circumstances in 1986 by stepping in after Colombia pulled out of hosting and defiantly making a success despite the terrible earthquake that devastated Mexico City eight months before the tournament. It could now become the first country to host the World Cup three times.

BAG: The 1994 World Cup, the first ever held in a nation without a top-flight league, began and ended with badly missed penalties: the former by Diana Ross during the extravagant opening ceremony at Soldier Field, the latter by Roberto Baggio after a goalless slog of a final that ultimately saw Brazil raise their fourth trophy. The month between saw Colombia’s Andrés Escobar pay for an own goal with his life and Argentina’s fallen genius sent home after a failed drugs test. But it was the absorbing attacking football that’s mostly remembered as spectators packed vast stadiums across nine cities at a record rate: an average attendance of nearly 69,000 per match. That America’s soccer culture was in its infancy makes those high-water marks all the more impressive.

What are your country’s chances of winning?

DR: After Leicester, football writers are averse to ruling out rank outsiders, but Canada has no shot of winning the World Cup. Not only is the Canadian men’s team bad at soccer, it is not even clear they’d automatically qualify. All three bidding nations expect to make it, but that decision is ultimately up to Fifa. Assuming the governing body scrounges up some mercy, the national team’s current form suggests that it would neither threaten Qatar’s status as worst host or any of its possible opponents in the group stages. It’s ultimately unclear if seeing Canada participate in a World Cup during my lifetime justifies the expense of hosting 10 group stage matches or participating in this bid.

DT: Slim, given that Mexico have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals. That said, Mexico would have a better chance of success than either of their co-hosts. They routinely dominate the Concacaf region and are almost invincible in the Azteca, their intimidating, high-altitude fortress. Mexico would even enjoy de facto home advantage in most venues in the US as they play more games north of the border than they do on home soil each year and consistently draw bigger crowds than their neighbours.

BAG: The United States have been dogged by uneven performances at World Cups and it seems hard to imagine a better result than their quarter-final showing at Korea Japan 2002, which of course might have gone one round further had the referee Hugh Dallas spotted Torsten Frings’ handball (but that’s neither here nor there). The smart money says the US team makes it through the group stage, before crashing out to the first true heavyweight in their path, be it in the newly introduced round of 32 or later.

What’s the best thing about watching football in your country?

DR: Like many things about Canada, the soccer viewing experience here is a pleasing amalgam of influences. This is particularly true when it comes to international soccer, where the Canadian men’s team is something of a niche taste. World Cup matches in Canada would therefore serve as an interesting outlet for the various fandoms that thrive here — unless, of course, the United States claims all the matches involving the likes of Italy and Portugal. The existence of a large soccer culture that is primarily interested in more than the national men’s team would be an interesting counterpoint to most hosts, including the American lead bidders for 2026. (Followers of Canadian politics will also note that a bill to be tabled in parliament later this week would make it legal to carry small quantities of marijuana. Assuming that it passes, watching dour sides like Switzerland might soon be more enjoyable in Canada.)

DT: The intense party atmosphere. Mexico’s fans are among the most passionate in the world and they would bring the noise in all three host nations. Beyond the stereotypical sombreros, lucha libre masks and the oft-maligned Mexican wave, visitors will also see mariachi bands outside the stadiums and hear many a stirring rendition of “Cielito Lindo” during games. The street food and cantina bars outside many Mexican grounds aren’t bad either.

BAG: Saturdays offer an all-day football smorgasbord: European matches all morning, Major League Soccer and Liga MX fixtures all day into the night. America’s top-flight league is in its 21st season and like most young adults is still finding its way, with all the positives and negatives that entails. Ultimately, the soccer culture is as diverse as the country itself: from the Europhilic poseurs in gentrified Brooklyn to the Latin American immigrants who devour Spanish-language broadcasts. But the collective future of the sport in a country where it was anathema a generation ago has never seemed brighter.

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