Gianni Infantino, the president of the international soccer governing body, said on Thursday that the president’s executive order preventing people from six Muslim-majority nations from entering the US could put America out of the running for even bidding to hold the iconic tournament.
“Teams who qualify for a World Cup need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup. That is obvious,” he told reporters, according to the Guardian.
Infantino went out of his way to say that this wasn’t a criticism of Trump specifically, and explained that travel bans upheld by any country are simply irreconcilable with the nature of the event, which is based on the ideal of being a truly global event featuring nations from around the world.
“The requirements will be clear. And then each country can make up their decision, whether they want to bid or not based on the requirements,” he said.
FIFA itself is no stranger to controversy when it comes to World Cup bids — it’s admitted to taking bribes for them in the past.
Bidding for the 2026 games hasn’t begun yet, but the US has been seen as a potentially strong contender for hosting the games, and was considering a three-way bid with Canada and Mexico. While Trump’s new travel ban is temporary — as of now, it lasts 90 days — it also initiates a review process that could ultimately result in some countries being targeted by travel bans indefinitely.
Only one of the countries currently banned under Trump’s recently revised travel ban has qualified for the World Cup in the past: Iran, which has made it to the final rounds four times. As the Guardian notes, Iran’s participation in the games has sometimes prompted hopes of a broader reconciliation between Tehran and the West:
Iran’s only victory at the finals came, ironically, against USA in 1998. Bill Clinton said on television at the time: “I hope it [the game] can be another step toward ending the estrangement between our nations.”
That encounter, as ephemeral as it was, gets to the heart of why the US losing out on the opportunity to host the games is a kind of diplomatic tragedy. The World Cup is an opportunity to circumvent the suffocating rhythms of geopolitics and humanize nations that often exist solely as abstractions.
And as the most-watched sporting event in the world, it’s a major opportunity for the US to demonstrate “soft power” — to expand its influence by appearing attractive to the world and showcasing desirable cultural values. But a country that’s bent on restricting the flow of people from other nations through blanket bans, with a case built on stoking fears among white voters, won’t be able to make any such appeal to the world with ease.