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North American bottom line translates into winning 2026 World Cup bid

Last Updated Jun 13, 2018 at 2:40 pm EDT

Decio de Maria, President of the Football Association of Mexico, left, and Canadian soccer player Alphonso Davies, right, present a joint United bid by Canada, Mexico and the United States to host the 2026 World Cup at the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

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.

“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.

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.

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.’

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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!”

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