UNITED 2026. A World Cup of strategic partners

The 23rd FIFA World Cup takes place from June 8th to July 12th, 2026. It will be hosted by 3 member countries of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF): Mexico, the United States of America, and Canada -. The trilateral hosting partnership was determined at the 68th Football Congress in Moscow on the eve of the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, as the vote for who would host the 2026 Cup resulted in overwhelming support, withcame as the result of 134 votes in support of the three countries hosting.Thus, becoming the first time that three countries simultaneously have been awarded being the host of the FIFA World Cup.

Despite there being criticisms  about the eligibility of the trilateral alliance as hosts because two of the nations included do "[n]ot consider football as one of their main sports", FIFA's explanation is simple: the mega-event will become a giga-event, changing from 32 to 48 teams. This means more cities will be needed to host the larger number of matches, whilst eliminating the necessity of new infrastructure.

In past World Cups, there has been the resulting economic problem known as white elephants left over for host countries to deal with. A white elephant is any investment into physical infrastructure whose cost of upkeep is greater than its usefulness or value.  We see examples of white elephant stadiums arising in host countries of previous World Cups, such as the 2014 Cup in Brazil, and the 2018 Cup in Russia.

For this reason, the FIFA Committee preferred to create stadiums built with containers that could be completely dismantled after the tournament for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, an idea that is suspected will be used as a guide and model by countries who intend to apply to host the 2030 World Cup: Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile.

Although no such investment has been made, at least not in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, a redevelopment project will have to be created, which has been rescheduled for 2024. Remember that FIFA is now using advanced technology, which is reflected both in the smart stadiums and in the footballs. The latest soccer ball, the Al-Rihla, has a sensor connected to the Video Assisted Referee that measures its speed, how many times it has made contact with the human foot, how many times it has passed through the goal, and marks offside. It is also the first World Cup ball to be made exclusively with water-based inks and glues, making it environmentally sustainable. This would allow the next World Cup in 2026 to be a more sustainable one as well; but above all, would require the three North American countries to invest in network infrastructure, connectivity, audio-visual systems, and effective emergency protocols.

The tournament will be divided into twelve groups of four. In the first round, all teams play the other teams in their group round-robin style, either gaining or losing points, or having their points unchanged. Teams get points for winning and scoring goals, and the inverse for losing, whilst remaining with the same number of points for a game that results in a tie.  

The top two teams from each group, along with the best eight third-placed teams from each group, will advance to the final round. The final round is elimination style, where the winning team advances to the next game, while the losing team is eliminated from the tournament. This new tournament structure establishes that the teams reaching the final will have to have gone through seven matches, one more than at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.


FIFA announced that the decision was based on a review that included various considerations, such as: the integrity of the competition, player welfare, transportation of the teams, and sporting attractiveness.It is estimated the local financial impact will be much greater than initially anticipated, and will be a unique business opportunity, where most of the proceeds will be destined to expand women's football. FIFA Women’s World Cup is playing this summer, 2023.

Controversy has surrounded this format because, although it guarantees that every team will play a minimum of three matches, and probably provides more time off for the teams between tournaments, it also means that the schedule will be extremely tight.. Moreover, the competition will be played a year after the first 32-team Club World Cup in North America in order to test the logistics of the tournament.

There are 16 cities that will be hosting matches.. Most of which (11) are located in the United States: Seattle (Lumen Field), San Francisco (Levi's Stadium), Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), Atlanta, Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Boston (Gillete Stadium) and New York (MetLife Stadium). Mexican will host in 3 of its cities:Monterrey (BBVA Stadium), Guadalajara (Akron Stadium) and Mexico City (Azteca Stadium). Finally, the Canadian host cities are Vancouver (BC Place) and Toronto (BMO Field).

The FIFA World Cup has been individually hosted by these countries in the past, too. It will be Mexico’s 3rd time hosting the Cup, following theCups of 1970 and 1986; the USA will host the Cup for the second time, following the Cup of ’94; yet Canada, uniquely will actually be hosting a FIFA World Cup for the first time in the country’s history. The FIFA Council decided to automatically qualify the hosts for the tournament.

The requirements set by FIFA for host cities were restructured in order to include sport infrastructure and telecommunications. Also, the candidates should fulfill high standards in terms of safety at work, human rights, environmental sustainability, and the use of the World Cup as a platform to promote issues such as diversity, equality, and health.

In order to mitigate the risk of labour violations, the organising teams of Mexico, the USA, and Canada, have implemented an ambitious United 2026 Human Rights Strategy, developed on FIFA's behalf in 2018, which was approved after two years of consultations. Incorporating civil society stakeholders in the outreach, project planning, monitoring and implementing measures to prevent and mitigate such risks during the planned refurbishment of sports venues. 

The third initiative is a public policy plan that addresses the infrastructure, connectivity, and digital transformation requirements of the main industries involved in United 2026: from fully connected and secure stadiums; to efficient, smart, and environmentally friendly transportation. Furthermore, work to create accessible airports with mobility platforms and a cyber-secure digital environment to facilitate safe digital payments is underway. This is a challenge that all three countries will have to face individually, collaboratively, and collectively.

Hosting one of the world's biggest sporting championships may exacerbate some challenges faced by the three countries, but is also an opportunity to promote technological advances in communication; labour and human rights enforcement; democratization; and more generally, high international standards. Although the FIFA Council will make a final decision on the hosts of the 2030 tournament in 2024, this alliance opens the door to the possibility of trilateral candidatures.


Erick M. Carreras, BSc, MSc Global Health, for review of English language version of this article.