The games have begun. The World Cup kicked off on Thursday week with Russia facing Saudi Arabia, during which the host country pummeled the Saudis in a match ending 5-0. But some of the biggest drama was resolved a day earlier.
On Wednesday, FIFA announced who will host the games in 2026 — two World Cups from now. The United States, Canada and Mexico prevailed over the other top contender, Morocco. In some ways, I was a little disappointed. Part of me had hoped that a second African country would have a chance to host the tournament. And Morocco’s unique culture — the food, the music! — would have brought something special to this global event.
Still, there are a couple of nice touches to the United States-Mexico-Canada decision. For one thing, there’s something nostalgic in it: Mexico, which will be hosting the World Cup for the third time, was one of eight participants in the inaugural tournament in 1930. It also recognizes the hosting expertise of Canada, which held the immensely successful Women’s World Cup in 2015.
But there’s no ignoring that this seems like a strange decision for FIFA to make in the Trump era. The three nations of North America may make up the Nafta trade bloc but are strange bedfellows these days. The American president has practically made enemies out of his country’s neighbors. Donald Trump has been howling for a wall on the border with Mexico and insulting the country’s people. Mexicans, unsurprisingly, don’t have much love for him in return. And FIFA’s announcement seemed almost comically timed: Just last week, Trump was in a war of words with Canada’s liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau. It’s hard to imagine these guys cooperating on something as complicated as hosting a huge international sporting event. (And in fact, the 2026 World Cup will be huger than ever: 48 teams instead of the traditional 32.)
What’s going on? The golden rule in international football is that if something looks odd, it’s pretty likely that behind the scenes money is saying all the right things.
FIFA and the Vatican have several things in common: They are both largely self-regulating, they’re both wealthy, they both enjoy remarkable tax breaks, and they are both exponents of religion to the masses. The two institutions are also alike in strategy: They take a very long view. FIFA is looking toward a time when Trump will have sent his last tweet and the dust has settled among North America’s three amigos. And in that distant future, North America is a glorious choice: It provides the vast area needed to host games among 48 countries — and thus to generate equally vast profits. Estimates say the 2026 games will rake in $11 billion. Even Mr. Trump, who doesn’t seem to be a fan of either football or international institutions, seems to get this. According to reporting in The Times, he sent FIFA letters assuring that the United States would grant visas to officials and visitors related to the tournament.
All in all, while countries may compete for the World Cup every four years, it’s FIFA that always wins. On that note, I suggest that the official anthem of the 2026 tournament should be a famous tune by those true North American heroes, the Wu-Tang Clan: “C.R.E.A.M.,” or “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.”
Musa Okwonga is a poet and writer based in Berlin. He is the author of two books on football, A Cultured Left Foot and Will You Manage?