To Evolution

How 3 Trump cards could help bring the 2026 World Cup to the US

    Abdulaziz Sobh
    By Abdulaziz Sobh

    Categories: Recreation and Sports

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    When the officials who lead the US bid to host the 2026 World Cup a joint effort with Mexico and Canada came to the campaign in earnest this year, they quickly found themselves with uncomfortable questions from football associations around the world worried about President Trump's travel restrictions. people from many countries

    How could a country organize the most watched sporting event in the world if it were inhospitable to visitors? Would visas be granted, would some federations, all teams, and their fans be asked if their countries qualified?

    With a rival offer from Morocco that poses a surprisingly strong challenge, concerns cannot be ignored. But if North America's candidacy comes out victorious on Wednesday, when soccer authorities around the world vote to award the 2026 World Cup, US soccer leaders will thank one person for helping them convince the world that Mr. Trump's policies would not be a factor: Mr. Trump himself.

    Since March, Mr. Trump has delivered three letters to the United States football officials addressed to Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, the governing body of world football. Each letter, part of an extensive but almost invisible effort by the US government to support the offer, contained increasingly specific guarantees that teams, officials, and even foreign fans would not face restrictions to enter the US. UU For World Cup matches in 2026 if their countries qualify for the tournament Indeed, the letters assured officials that they would vote on the fact that Mr. Trump's tough stance on visas would not apply to the World Cup.

    The letters were reviewed by The New York Times; they have not been previously reported.

    In the most recent letter, dated May 2, Mr. Trump cites the 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games and the 1994 World Cup as examples of major international events organized by the United States, and assures Mr. Infantino and by extension to the voters of FIFA that "I am confident that the United States will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup in an equally open and festive manner, and that all athletes, officials, and fans from all countries of the world can enter the United States without discrimination ".

    Of course, a second Trump term would end in 2025, more than a year before the event, a fact that United Bid officials have also pointed out to voters. That did not seem to matter, soccer officials in the United States, Mexico, and Canada said Monday. What has eased the minds of some voters, said the president of soccer of EE? UU Carlos Cordeiro is the mere existence of his letters printed on the clean letterhead of the White House and marked with the unmistakable signature of Trump at the bottom with thick black strokes.
    "You know, in this environment, he says that writing is quite powerful," Cordeiro said.

    In order to produce Mr. Trump's letters, the White House began an inter-agency review to develop the language in them, according to a person familiar with the offer. Jared Kushner, son-in-law and principal advisor to Mr. Trump, and his team also kept in touch with Canada and Mexico in what were sometimes the only harmonious interactions with US neighbors amid heavy public confrontations over trade and immigration.

    And just as Morocco has recruited current and former government ministers to carry its 2026 message abroad, the United States government has sometimes played an even more active role: the National Security Council has been in contact with other countries whose votes could help exaggerate the states, said the person familiar with the offer, and Kushner took advantage of his relationship with the Saudi royal family to get Riyadh to publicly announce his support for the North American effort.

    The 2026 World Cup will be the first with 48 teams, above the current 32, and the scale of the venture: more than 1,100 players, in addition to the required stadiums, training sites, hotels and transport infrastructure to accommodate to his federations and his fans: he made the American bet one of the first favorites.

    But the World Cup also requires the host to open its doors to everyone, and Trump's public comments on immigrants, African and Muslim countries quickly became a topic of conversation when American soccer executives made the campaign rounds in search of votes. For example, Iran, one of the six predominantly Muslim countries on a list of eight countries to which Trump has tried to limit his trip, qualified for the two previous World Cups. Syria, another country marked by Mr. Trump's travel restrictions, narrowly missed the last qualifying day last year for the 2018 event.

    Mr. Trump made only two public comments about the World Cup bid, and none was seen as particularly useful. On April 26, he tweeted: "It would be a shame if the countries we always support lobbied against the US offer."

    Then, days later, in an appearance by Rose Garden with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, he pressured African countries to support the candidacy of North America. "We will be watching him very closely, and any help they can give us in that bet, we will appreciate it," he said. Many observers, inside and outside of football, saw each comment as a threat to nations whose federations voted for Morocco.

    But there were also other problems. A World Cup in North America would almost certainly mean an increase in cross-border travel at a time when Trump has pushed for borders to narrow. Then, even before Trump's public statements about the 2026 race, officials with the offer began asking for letters to assure FIFA and its voters that their effort had the full support of the United States government, and Trump He began to sign them.

    On March 9, he wrote to Mr. Infantino expressing support for North America's candidacy in "the spirit of the continental association." Three days later he sent a second letter, which included five points that promised that the United States would respect the rules of FIFA. it requires, for example, playing the national anthem of any country, displaying any national flag and respecting human rights.

    Then, in mid-April, after the members of the FIFA technical committee visited Mexico, the United States, and Canada to assess the preparation of the candidacy, Mr. Cordeiro met with Mr. Kushner at the White House. Mr. Cordeiro thanked White House officials for the administration's support during the bidding process, said one person familiar with the meeting, and then requested a final round of clarifications from Mr. Trump guaranteeing access to all visitors if the Americans won the offer.

    "FIFA could have marked us in red if we had not been able to give these guarantees," said Cordeiro.

    The bet of North America had entered the early 2026 race and had almost no opposition. But Morocco, a four-time loser with its previous offers for the World Cup, including the United States in 1994, has proven to be a resilient opponent.

    Morocco has emphasized its passion for football, its proximity to the European television market and, curiously but deliberately, its "very low circulation of weapons". Once prohibitive favorites, Americans remain cautiously optimistic that they will prevail. "I feel we have a road to victory," Cordeiro said Sunday, but they also remained cautious as they crossed the world for support.

    In the five weeks since Mr. Trump's letter of May 2 was created, he has traveled all over the world. Mr. Cordeiro and the presidents of the soccer federations of Canada and Mexico, Steve Reed, and Decio De María, have been in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in Europe in the last two months. They knew at each stop that if a potential voter raised the problem of visas, they could consult the president's letter, an image of which was always available for reference by simply swiping a finger through a cell phone.

    Mr. Cordeiro even quoted him in a letter of his own, sent on May 25 to the senior officials of each of the 211 FIFA member federations and shared with The Times on Monday.

    "In our bid discussions with football associations around the world, one issue has been visa requirements and entry into the United States in 2026," Cordeiro wrote. "I want to assure you that we take this matter very seriously and that the US government is firmly committed to FIFA."

    Mr. Cordeiro also cited a March 12 letter from the Secretary of State at that time, Rex Tillerson, in which the United States confirmed its intention to "issue visas, subject to eligibility under US law, without distinction of race, color of skin, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, disability, wealth, birth or any other state or sexual orientation. "

    "We trust," Mr. Cordeiro added in his letter, "that these guarantees will guarantee that all eligible admirers and members of our FIFA family have unimpeded access to our country to experience and celebrate the 2026 FIFA World Cup."