For the sports movie junkie, “Invictus” is a must watch. As is the 30 for 30 film “The 16th Man,” which covers the same story in documentary form. Both feature Morgan Freeman, so there is a good reason to watch.
The story the films cover is the 1991 Rugby World Cup, which was held in South Africa. This was the first major sporting event in the country at the end of apartheid.
For president Nelson Mandela, it was a chance to begin to heal a divided country. Mandela saw the rugby team and their run to the World Cup as a way to get the white and black populations in the country to rally behind a single cause.
Perhaps, one of Mandela’s most intriguing quotes is, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
This quote was about one country, but over 25 years later it can be tested by a continent.
Monday afternoon, the formal confirmation of a three-way bid by the North American countries for the 2026 World Cup was announced. The bid comes at a time of great interest in this region of the world.
President Donald Trump has said some things in the past that have put stress on the U.S.-Mexico relations.
He has also made some comments that have the world questioning just how much certain people are welcomed into this country.
His comments have gotten to the point where U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made it very clear about Trump’s stance.
At the press conference Monday, Gulati said, “We have the full support of the U.S. Government in this project. The president of the United States is fully supportive and encouraged us have this joint bid. He is especially pleased about having Mexico in this bid.”
And to be clear, this will not be Trump’s World Cup. Even if he wins re-election, he will be out of office before a ball is kicked.
But, he will play a part during the whole of the bidding process.
A three-nation bid is unprecedented and will come with a lot of cost negotiation. Who will pay for the necessities of the tournament?
At least one positive in the bid is the U.S. has the facilities to host the tournament solo. Add in the help from the two other nations, and theoretically there shouldn’t be any new stadiums being built, even with the tournament field expanding to 48 teams.
But what if Trump continues to try to ban people from certain countries into the states? Iran is one of the countries affected by the current temporary travel ban. They are also ranked No. 28 in the FIFA rankings currently.
“If players cannot come because of political decisions, or populist decisions, then the World Cup cannot be played there,” Aleksander Ceferin, president of the European football bloc UEFA, said back in February.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also said, “It’s obvious when it comes to FIFA competitions as well, any team, including the supporters and officials of that team, who qualify for a World Cup need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup.”
Hopefully, the fact Trump should be gone by tournament time could settle fears about this.
But to say the Trump Effect will not touch this bid is foolish because it already has.
The U.S. could have easily bid by themselves. If that was the case, another bid by Mexico could have happened. That would split the CONCACAF vote, opening a door for a potential African bid. In this case, the joint bid made sense.
Dive a bit deeper, and Trump has been a cause of concern in the footballing world, as shown by Ceferin and Infantino’s comments.
Those are two of the most powerful men in football. Without their support, a solo bid could have been severely hindered before it even started.
But the joint bid lessens those fears, and it also allows Infantino to repay a debt from the FIFA election. Gulati was a driving force behind getting him elected, essentially whipping the votes between the first and second, the decisive, ballot.
Perhaps the combination of that debt and Trump’s rhetoric is what forced the three-way bid. A bid that feels more of a U.S. plus two. Gulati announced that of the 80 games to be played, 60 will be stateside and 10 each for the other two. While this is subject to change, that is the number available now.
Mexico should feel like they got the short end of the stick. Even if they get the opening match, which they should at Estadio Azteca, that is not a lot.
As for Canada, they will likely just take getting into the tournament. They have not been in the World Cup since 1986. It seems like they will take what they can get at this point.
The bid also allows for Trump an opportunity. Should he help with this bid, working out deals with Mexico and Canada to have this move smoothly, he could relieve the foreign relation stresses he has initiated with his prior comments.
In theory, this World Cup has the potential to unify North America under one cause. It also could end with Trump building walls and shutting people out. The latter would really see him fall out of favor with soccer fans and the bid fail.
Or, he can follow Mandela’s lead, and use this as an opportunity to bring everyone together.