I Say Futbol, You Say Soccer

Why the U.S. and Mexico should bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup

The ties between the United States and Mexico make up one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world today, with profound implications for the prosperity, well-being, and security of the people of both nations. Some in Mexico and the U.S. may not enjoy reading this, but there is one inescapable truth, one that has developed over time since the early 1990s and accelerated in the decade after NAFTA’s approval, and that could fundamentally alter the nature of our relationship and have a profound impact for North America and, dare I say, for the global community as well: Mexico and the United States are converging, as societies and as economies.

Why, you ask? Consider the following: The recent successes in the deepening and widening of our bilateral ties (notwithstanding the tyranny of past mistakes, failures, and lost opportunities); the promise of what the energy revolution in North America—and the hopes for energy reform in Mexico—could achieve for economic growth and energy independence, efficiency, and security for our region; the increasingly integrated production and supply chains adding economic and labor value throughout North America; the potential of a middle-income Mexico solidifying over the next decade; and the growing societal, cultural, and trans-border connectivity between communities. Add to the fact that each country has its largest diaspora or expat community living in the other.

Nonetheless, this unique and complex partnership is now facing serious challenges, not the least of which are foundering public misperceptions on both sides of the border regarding the other nation. One of the keys to surmounting this challenge—one of perception rather than reality—is to foster the belief, within each society, that each is a stakeholder to the success of the other. A potent way to achieve this is via the power of sport, and of soccer in particular.

Soccer could become a great societal connector between Mexico and the United States, and in the aftermath of a successful World Cup in Brazil, why not come together and present a joint bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup? There will undoubtedly be many Mexicans or Americans that will object either on the feasibility or desirability of such an endeavor, let alone those commentators in the U.S. who squirm at the thought of the “moral decay” wrought by soccer.

But assuming we could get the soccer federations of both nations and the milieu of corporate interests surrounding a World Cup to embrace the idea of a joint Mexico-U.S. bid—with host cities on both sides of the border, the opening match played in one county, and the final in the other—the transformative potential could be significant. For starters, both nations boast a huge and enthusiastic fan base of Mexicans. Then there are the various ethnic communities throughout the U.S. who are passionate about soccer, as well as a growing following of Americans who love the game, particularly amongst Gen X and Millennials.

Most of the stadiums already exist in key host cities in both countries, and would likely only need upgrading, so there would be no new costly behemoths. Instead of having the federal governments in Washington and Mexico City pitch-in, the private sector and team owners could take the lead in modernizing stadiums. Good existing air connectivity between both nations could be rapidly expanded, a trusted traveller program already in place between both countries would facilitate tourism, and our respective transportation infrastructures—and our rickety and outmoded joint border infrastructure in particular—could certainly benefit from governmental investment and upgrading.

Moreover, a joint World Cup would be instrumental in changing ongoing narratives that the two nations face in the world today, providing both with vital soft power and country branding tools. For the U.S., which has hosted few mega-sports events recently, the World Cup would do wonders to break down the vision abroad of a “Fortress America.” For Mexico, it would underscore that it is one of the true global cultural superpowers in the world and that beyond the challenges of public security and the rule of law, it entails huge economic potential and growth if reforms currently being discussed are adequately implemented and take hold.

Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of the Liverpool of the 1960s and early ’70s—and of the team I grew up loving as a young boy in Wales—once deadpanned that while some people thought that soccer was a matter of life and death, he was convinced it was much more important than that. Soccer is never just about soccer. It reflects the crosscurrents and paradigm shifts of the world at a given time. For Mexico and the U.S., a joint bid for the 2026 World Cup would also be about more than just soccer. It would be about both nations becoming better neighbors, about creating a sense of co-stakeholdership, and having both peoples become partners to success instead of accomplices to failure. At the end of the day, it would send an extremely powerful message to the rest of the world regarding the nature and promise of our ties. Let’s play!

A version of this originally appeared in Spanish in the current issue of Letras Libras in Mexico.