Wednesday , June 13, 2018 - 12:40 PM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
MEXICO CITY - They might be in the midst of an escalating trade war, but Mexico, Canada and the United States celebrated the news Wednesday that they will jointly host the World Cup in 2026.
The announcement came at the tensest time in decades for the three North American countries, whose once-warm relations have been roiled during the first 18 months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
But while Trump was demanding that Mexico pay for a border wall and lambasting Canada for its trade barriers, representatives of the three nations were pushing their collective bid to host the soccer championship. The name of the effort? “United Bid.”
After the North American bid was declared the landslide winner in a 134 to 65 vote of the member associations of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, the three nations’ leaders issued statements offering a rare sense of camaraderie.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a video that the announcement proves the three host countries are “deeply united.”
Trump tweeted that the winning bid was the result of “a great deal of hard work.”
Canadian sports and political leaders hailed the success of the three-country bid, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulating the sponsors on Twitter and adding, “It’s going to be a great tournament.”
But, as Trudeau and Peña Nieto know well, U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican relations are more tense than they have been in decades. Peña Nieto has taken to issuing near-simultaneous correctives to President Trump’s claims, asserting on Twitter, for example, that Mexico will never pay for a U.S. border wall.
Commercial relations have soured over the last month, as the United States imposed tariffs on Mexican and Canadian aluminum and steel and Mexico responded with its own retaliatory tariffs on American agricultural products. Canada is also considering retaliatory measures. Mexican newspapers have been running front-page headlines about the “trade war.”
On Wednesday, in the wake of the World Cup announcement, some of Mexico’s political and sports leaders suggested that it proves how connected the three countries still are, despite current tensions.
The bid “exemplifies the solid collaboration that exists in our region, beyond politics and business,” Mexico’s soccer federation said in a statement.
While many Mexicans expressed delight Wednesday that their country would be the first to host three World Cups, others were quick to point out the ironic timing.
“You have to cross the wall to go see a game?” asked Diego Lemi on Twitter.
Some people posted a fake Trump quote: “The United States is going to host the World Cup in 2026 and Mexico is going to pay for it.”
“There’s irony everywhere” in this decision, said Peter Donnelly, director of the Center for Sports Policy Studies at University of Toronto. Not only does it come at a time when relations are at a low ebb, he noted, but it follows a FIFA corruption scandal that U.S. law enforcement took a leading role in exposing.
Donnelly also said it was clear that the 65 countries voting against the joint bid were probably doing so to make a statement against Trump.
But there was particular enthusiasm in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton, the three Canadian cities that are expected to be venues for the tournament, although the final decision will be made by FIFA. The bid calls for 10 of the 80 matches in the Cup to take place in Canada, and 10 in Mexico. Sixty matches are to be played in the United States, including all matches from the quarterfinals onward.
Canada’s final presentation at the FIFA event in Moscow was opened by Alphonso Davies, a teenage player with the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer. Davies’ parents fled Liberia during that country’s civil war, and Alphonso was born in a refugee camp in Ghana before the family settled in Canada.
“It was a hard life. But when I was 5 years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in,” he said. “And the boys on the football team made me feel at home. Today, I’m 17 years old, and I play for the [Canadian] men’s national team. And I’m a proud Canadian citizen. And my dream is to some day compete in the World Cup, maybe even in my home town of Edmonton.”
Analysts in Mexico were quick to point out that by 2026, Trump will no longer be president.
“By then, we expect that relations will have improved,” said Jorge Chabat, a professor at the University of Guadalajara.
“Aside from a few areas of conflict, and beyond the tweets of Trump, there’s still a lot of collaboration,” he said.
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Freeman reported from Ottawa.
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