Only once in the history of the FIFA World Cup has more than one nation hosted the tournament. That was the 2002 World Cup, which had joint hosts South Korea and Japan.
That could change with the 2026 World Cup if the joint bid to host from the United States, Mexico and Canada wins. If the bid is successful, this will be the first World Cup that any of these three countries has hosted since the U.S. in 1994.
Mexico hosted the event in 1970 and 1986, with the 1970 tournament still holding fourth place for highest average attendance per match. Canada has never hosted a men’s World Cup but did host the 2015 Women’s World cup.
When the U.S. hosted the event, it set records for the highest average attendance per match and highest total attendance. The U.S.’s tournament only had 24 teams since the current format of 32 teams started with the 1998 World Cup.
Even as the tournament has added more teams and more matches, the U.S.-hosted tournament still is the standard for attendance. Soccer grew leaps and bounds when the U.S. last hosted, and the sport could grow even more if the nation gets another turn at the reins.
However, the 2026 World Cup could end up setting records no matter which country hosts it. The number of teams will jump from 32 to 48, and the number of matches will jump from 60 to 80. It makes sense for more than one country to host a super-sized tournament.
Lone host nations could become harder to find with the amount of teams that will be participating. That’s a bonus for this bid because there are numerous stadiums in all three countries that can hold matches.
Even before these three countries announced their bid, the U.S. seemed to be the frontrunner to host the 2026 tournament. The U.S. lost the 2022 tournament to Qatar under dubious circumstances that ended up changing the way that FIFA votes on World Cups bids.
Under the old format, which started after 1982, an executive committee of about 48 members voted on bids to host the World Cup. The new voting format is actually the old one, which the organization used before 1982, where every member of FIFA votes for a bid.
There are 211 members with the votes allocated as follows: Europe has 55 votes, Africa has 54 votes, Asia has 46 votes, CONCACAF has 35 votes, Oceania has 11 votes, and South America has 10 votes. The idea behind this bid is that the 35 votes of CONCACAF would pull together to host the tournament.
No team from CONCACAF has hosted the tournament since 1994. The other major confederations each have held at least one World Cup since then.
As Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup and Qatar is hosting the 2022 tournament, neither Europe nor Asia can bid on 2026 due to FIFA rules on hosting.
That leaves Africa as the biggest voting block able to submit a bid for the tournament. Europe and Asia could vote together, and help decide the outcome since neither can host the tournament.
South America could support this bid if CONCACAF will get behind the Argentina’s and Uruguay’s bid to host in 2030. That tournament will mark the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup held in Uruguay.
The three-country bid from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. could win easily by building a coalition with the other confederations. Each of these has hosted World Cups and Olympic games. There is no doubt that all three countries could put on a phenomenal tournament. The U.S. has the necessary stadiums to host nearly any major event with ease.
There is still plenty to work out with the joint three-nation bid, though. One sticking point might be the number of games that each nation would host.
Early numbers would have the U.S. hosting 60 of the 80 games, with Mexico and Canada hosting 10 games each. All the matches from the quarterfinals to the final would be in the U.S.
That could be a problem for the proud soccer nation of Mexico. Hosting only 10 games might not fly for a country that has reached 15 World Cups—the most of any CONCACAF nation—whereas Canada has only been to one World Cup. The U.S. has been in 10 World Cups and has currently reached seven consecutive tournaments.
When the tournament goes to 48 teams, CONCACAF will get six teams into the event, a step up from the three to four teams that it gets now. Normally, the host nation gets a spot in the World Cup without having to qualify. If the bid is accepted, FIFA will have to decide if all three teams get in the tournament.
Details will need to be worked out quickly because the U.S., Canada and Mexico are seeking to have the tournament awarded this year instead of 2020.
All three countries must work together if they are going to be successful. Hosting the tournament can bring them closer as neighbors if they can pull off something this massive as a group.