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World Cup bid should be a lock for North America, but it's not and here's why

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

The Los Angeles City Council considered a proposal this week that would have the city seek to host events for the 2026 World Cup. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the NFL stadium under construction in Inglewood, Calif., are also in the running to stage World Cup games.

The only thing they need now is a World Cup. And that's not the sure thing it appeared to be just a few months ago.

The joint bid by Mexico, Canada and the U.S. to bring soccer's biggest event back to North America for the first time since 1994 is impressive. The three neighbors already have both the infrastructure and the know-how to put on a global event, having combined to stage a dozen major FIFA tournaments.

Morocco, a small North African nation with about as much land and as many people as California, was the only other country to bid for the 2026 World Cup, which will expand to 48 entrants, making it the largest tournament in history.

But just to be sure -- and also because its regulations demand it -- FIFA will put the matter up for a vote in March. And that could pose a problem for the North Americans.

Last month Steve Goff of the Washington Post reported that people close to the North American bid privately were expressing concern that growing anti-U.S. sentiment around the world has many FIFA nations leaning toward Morocco, which only last week named a chairman to its bid committee, one that still doesn't have a website.

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But the Moroccans may have gotten an unlikely assist from President Trump, who repeatedly has sought a travel ban that would bar citizens from some African countries from entering the U.S., said Nigerians live in huts, then last week reportedly referred to African nations as "shithole countries," actions that are more likely to help Morocco's longshot campaign rather than the U.S.-led bid.

"In Africa there's solidarity," the president of one soccer federation told the New York Times. "So we feel insulted and not happy. Of course it's not good for the Americans."

The African Union has demanded an apology, one the president isn't likely to make since he denied making the remark. And though Trump, even if he wins re-election in 2020, wouldn't be in office when the World Cup comes, nations in Africa and elsewhere are beginning to see support for Morocco as a way to express their anger.

Even the participation of Canada and Mexico in the North American bid, the most expansive in history, may do little to soften opposition since voters know 60 of the tournament's 80 games would be played in the U.S.

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