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WORLD FOOTBALL SUMMIT

"Hopefully next Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo will be American"

A round table at the World Football Summit in Madrid discussed how Canada, the US and Mexico are preparing to host the biggest World Cup ever.

"Hopefully next Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo will be American"

For the first time ever three countries will host the World Cup, with Canada, the US and Mexico joining forces for the tournament to be held in 2026. Over 2.4 million square kilometres of land, with a population of 500 million people, the three nations will be putting on what's expected to be the biggest sporting show ever seen.

At the World Football Summit 2019 being held today, Tuesday, and tomorrow in Madrid, five experts hosted a round table to discuss how the organisers are going about making a success of the project.

John Kristick, who led the three-country proposal which won the right to host the tournament, said that the joint bid came together very quickly after new FIFA president Gianni Infantino brought in the World Cup 2.0 vision, with an expanded format of 48 teams and 80 matches. "The US had been left with a strong desire to bid again after the failure of 2022, and the presidents of the three FAs all agreed they'd like to do it, and that we would be more powerful as a continental bid."

Iñigo Riestra, secretary general of the Mexican FA, was quick to agree, saying the smartest thing they did was to identify how much stronger the three countries were together. "Maybe in Mexico we have more fans, but the stadiums in the US are incredible and Canada had just organised the Women's World Cup in 2015."

Single-country World Cup bids

According to Kristick, the future of the World Cup will be joint bids, with the hope that the North American tournament will prove to be a model for the future, allowing smaller countries to be involved in hosting the event. Riestra pointed out that, "To have a responsible bid, building no new infrastructure, the World Cup still needs 150 training pitches, which isn’t feasible for Mexico."

Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United, the side founded in 2014 and which won the MLS Cup in 2018, spoke about how the excitement surrounding Major League Soccer (MLS) can be expected to attract crowds to the World Cup, and vice versa.

"The World Cup in 1994 was the most ticketed tournament ever, and that was back when there wasn't even a professional league. Now we've got 30 years of MLS and the clubs are incredible. Atlanta United right now is averaging crowds of 55,000, and is tenth in the world overall in the past 5 years in terms of attendance. That's very indicative of the level of interest in soccer in the US.

"This is only the start of the journey and the World Cup in 2026 is going to be fantastic. The excitement around soccer in the three countries is going to be incredible." According to Kristick, the average stadium for the 2026 World Cup will hold 65,000 to 67,000 fans, with a total of five million tickets sold for the whole tournament.

Eales is also confident the World Cup will have a major impact in terms of participation in the sport, particularly in the US. Right now at youth level, the number one participation sport in the USA and Canada is football, but many give it up in favour of traditional American sports.

"Imagine if Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was a centre-forward for Atlanta United, with his pace and his height," he said. "We need young talent to be playing soccer and learning the skills. The next Messi or Ronaldo will hopefully be American, and from the Atlanta area."

Impact of the World Cup in Mexico

For Riestra, the World Cup in 2026 will be a "big opportunity to put in place the best practices and to reconnect with the fans, with the whole world looking at the three countries." In his view, what was incredible about the process was seeing Mexico City competing with Atlanta, which in the Mercedes-Benz stadium has the “best stadium in the world”.

"In Mexico we are trying to grow our league and get it better known around the world, and now the clubs are doing that as part of the World Cup effort. Only three stadiums will be used but all the clubs are part of the World Cup effort and they all want to make the most of it.