FIFA President Gianni Infantino is laying down the law, and the United States’s soccer future could pay the price. Speaking on Thursday about the 2026 World Cup, Infantino responded to a question about Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and its possible effect on a United States bid for the tournament. “What is obvious is that when it comes to the World Cup, like the Olympic Games … any team, including the supporters and officials of that team who have qualified, need to have access to the country. Otherwise there is no World Cup.”
The ban as it stands now would prevent immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, who made the World Cup in 2014. The other countries on the list (Lybia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia) are not traditional soccer powerhouses, but FIFA wants to protect itself from a potential PR nightmare if one of the countries were to qualify and then not be allowed to enter the United States. It’s important to note that the players themselves would almost certainly be allowed in under special visas, but FIFA is also demanding that fans from those countries be allowed in.
This is not exactly a new stance; after all, the United States isn’t the first country considered for a bid to have visa requirements and travel bans in place. But with the current political situation in turmoil, CONCACAF’s rumored tri-nation bid between the US, Mexico, and Canada could be shot down by the ban. Never mind the fact that the supposed border wall between the United States and Mexico would present an ideological challenge to a united bid, although CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani has already assured media that the wall would not affect their plans.
Given that the US’s burgeoning love of soccer can be traced back to hosting the 1994 World Cup, missing out on an opportunity to host another due to the current administration’s xenophobia would hurt the game’s ability to take the next step nationally, where it is growing but still behind the Big Four of football, basketball, baseball, and (to a lesser extent) hockey.
FIFA is clearly in the right here, as hosting a World Cup where players possibly couldn’t participate due to immigration laws would be a travesty. It does feel falsely self-righteous, however, given the blind eye it has turned towards human rights abuses in the run-up to the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Coincidentally, the favorites to win the bid for 2020 before it was shockingly awarded to Qatar? The United States.