ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The World Cup begins tomorrow in Russia. The U.S. did not make the tournament but today, it did get a huge win. The United States, along with Canada and Mexico, will host the World Cup in 2026. The news came after a vote in Moscow.
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GIANNI INFANTINO: The member associations of Canada, Mexico and USA have been selected by the FIFA Congress to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
SHAPIRO: Tariq Panja is in Moscow. He's a sports correspondent for The New York Times. Welcome to the program.
TARIQ PANJA: Hey, good to be with you.
SHAPIRO: So does this mean that the U.S., Mexico and Canada teams will all definitely play in the World Cup in 2026?
PANJA: That's a really good question. The past World Cup hosts have always been guaranteed an automatic place in their home World Cup. For the first time, FIFA has three hosts. And immediately after that announcement was made, FIFA president was asked about this. And he said, listen, what we do know is that there will be seven representatives from that North American, Caribbean region. But it will be up to the regional governing body to decide how it allocates those slots.
Now, if I was guessing, I would say, you know, the United States is certain to be playing in that tournament without qualifying. I'd be less sure about Mexico and Canada's guarantee. That said, I won't be surprised if they get a place as well.
SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about this unusual collective bid between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Was it strange to see them combine forces like this when these countries are in the middle of the biggest diplomatic fight they've had in years over the G7 and the U.S.-Mexico border?
PANJA: Yeah, the backdrop created a narrative, I guess, that they didn't like because whenever they were doing media rounds, they're saying, you know, look, hang on a minute, aren't you supposed to be building a wall in Mexico? Haven't you got these tariffs against both those countries? How are you guys getting together, and can we really believe that you guys are together? However, they've been at pains to present themselves as a United Bid. In fact, you know, it's the name on the box. It's called the United Bid.
That's quite different from the start of the bid where it looked like this is a U.S. bid. Oh, and by the way, those two guys sitting in the back over there, you might see them in the corner. Yeah, that's Mexico and Canada, and they might have some games as well. So that narrative changed.
SHAPIRO: President Trump personally lobbied for this. And he had to offer some surprising assurances when he was asked whether fans from around the world would be allowed to attend, whether they would be given visas. Tell us about that.
PANJA: Absolutely. One of the things FIFA has always requested, and it's upset some of its critics, are these government guarantees. In this case, they needed requirements that all of the teams and the fans, wherever they're from, really, will be able to arrive in the United States unmolested. Now, given the rhetoric and actual policy that the Trump White House has instituted since 2016, there were some worries about this. And Donald Trump has, to his credit, really engaged with the bid in the sense of providing guarantees.
To be honest with you, it looks like that wasn't an issue, really, given the emphatic way the U.S., Mexico and Canada won the vote today.
SHAPIRO: How can the U.S.-Canada-Mexico bid guarantee $14 billion in revenue, twice as much as the previous tournament? That seems like a really high number.
PANJA: I think you're right to question that, and they didn't guarantee it. But the reality is they've won now. So those people who were seduced by that voted for it.
SHAPIRO: Tariq Panja, thanks for joining us.
PANJA: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: He's a sports correspondent from The New York Times speaking with us from Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.