GENEVA (AP) — The North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup has asked FIFA for a decision in June 2018, two years ahead of schedule.
In a letter seen by The Associated Press, the soccer federations from the United States, Canada and Mexico asked FIFA to consider their request next month in Bahrain at its annual congress.
The proposal calls for the North American neighbors to be given a clear run without rival candidates until next year, and is item 14.1 on the congress agenda that FIFA published Tuesday.
The bid, launched in New York on Monday, is likely the only realistic option for FIFA's 211 member federations who are scheduled to choose the 2026 host in May 2020. That timetable could be fast-tracked on May 11 in Manama.
The added agenda item, written in the letter dated March 11, asks FIFA members to make a "principle decision" for the 2026 tournament to be "jointly and cooperatively organized" in North America.
If approved, FIFA could then ask the bid to show the Zurich-based administration it meets all technical and operational demands by a March 31 deadline.
That would allow time to prepare a confirmation of the 2026 hosts at the next congress in Moscow. The Russian capital hosts the annual meeting on the eve of the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.
FIFA bidding rules have made the North American bid a strong favorite to win because Europe and Asia cannot present a candidate. Those continents are blocked because they will have staged the previous two editions in Russia and Qatar.
South America and Africa can rival the U.S.-led bid, though Brazil hosted in 2014 and South Africa in 2010. It was 16 years earlier that the World Cup last came to the CONCACAF region, when the United States hosted a 1994 edition that set records for total attendance and average per game.
Argentina and Uruguay — the original World Cup host in 1930 — are focused on a centenary tournament in 2030, however.
Although Morocco has been speculated as a potential bidder for a fifth time, Africa is seen as lacking facilities even for a co-hosting bid for an expanded 48-team World Cup. The 16 extra teams from 2026 will add to demand for stadiums, training camps, hotels and transport.
"Should the cooperative bid ... not satisfy the technical bid requirements, the bidding process will be re-opened to all Member Associations under the conditions set out by the FIFA Council," the North American officials wrote in their letter.
The U.S.-led bid expects 60 games to be played in that country, with 10 in Canada and 10 in Mexico.
Although FIFA has final say on the match schedule, the bid also proposes playing all knockout games from the quarterfinals and later in the United States. The final week of the tournament should coincide with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026.
"A World Cup in North America, with 60 games in the United States, would be by far the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA in terms of economics," said Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer Federation president and a member of the FIFA Council.
Mexico will push to kick off the 32-day tournament at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, which hosted the final in 1970 and 1986.
"If we could get the opening match, it would be historic," Mexico federation president Decio de Maria said Monday, acknowledging that some think his country should stage more games. "This is a good solution."
The North American proposal is one of five topics that FIFA members will discuss in Bahrain, according to the agenda published Tuesday.
Also, the Palestinian federation wants FIFA to act against Israel for allowing clubs from West Bank settlements to play in its national league, and Iraq is asking FIFA to lift a ban on playing games in the country for security reasons. All Iraq's "home" games in 2018 World Cup qualifying have been played in neutral Iran or Malaysia.
FIFA members will also be asked to consider the "election or dismissal" leaders of its judicial bodies, including the ethics committee. The Asian confederation has led criticism of the ethics panels for barring a Qatari candidate from scheduled elections for FIFA Council seats in September.