The question of the four votes

Every vote counts when the heads of the world’s football associations gather to decide who will host the 2026 World Cup. Even the votes that shouldn’t?

By Lars Johnsen

Late on Friday 1 June, FIFA announced that both bids to host the 2026 World Cup – Morocco and the United bid of the United States, Mexico and Canada – had passed the tests. FIFA’s evaluation task force had given the United bid 4 out of 5 possible points and Morocco 2,7 out of 5. Any fears the bidding nations – especially Morocco – had about not even making it to the ballot for the 2026 World Cup vote in Moscow on 13 June, could be put to rest.

The day before Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off the greatest show on earth, the presidents of FIFA’s 211 member associations meet in Moscow for the 68th FIFA congress. The national FA supremos are given the task of deciding who will be the host of the first ever 48-team World Cup.
Tactics will be involved. Expect dirty play. One team will win, the other will lose.

207 voters, or?
Only a handful of decision-makers will base their decision on which bid actually is the best for football. Politics will play a bigger role in which way the votes will swing.  And football politics is a world where “a friend of a friend is a friend, a friend of an enemy is an enemy” rules.

Saudi Arabia, thus far not a player in international sport politics, unlike its neighbours, have been getting involved. They are a political ally of the United States, and an enemy of Qatar. Qatar supports the Moroccan bid. It is believed that the Saudis are using its influence in the Arab world to persuade nations to vote against the Moroccans.

According to the United 2026 bid team, they have the support of all of the Americas – 10 votes from CONMEBOL and the 38 eligible CONCACAF votes.
Morocco are banking on 45 out the eligible 54 African votes.

Several European countries, like France, Belgium, Russia and Turkey, have vowed to vote for the Moroccan bid. Donald Trump has just started a trade war with the European Union (a trade war that includes joint bidders Canada and Mexico). Will other European nations want to ‘reward’ him with the world’s most prestigious sporting event, or follow those that have pledged support for the North African country?

A year ago a 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico seemed like a gimme. It has instead turned into a tight race, too close to call. Every single vote is crucial.

The bidding nations are not eligible to vote. This reduces the voters to 207 associations. 104 votes are needed to win.
But should all of the 207 be allowed to vote?

A question for the congress?
Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are all sovereign football nations and FIFA members. In May, Morocco 2026 sent a letter to FIFA regarding the World Cup voting eligibility status of these four associations. Whilst they are full FIFA members, the inhabitants of these territories are US citizens.

If these associations are allowed to vote, it means US citizens can vote for the US.  This is, according to the Moroccans, a breach of FIFA bidding regulations article 4.2 concerning conflict of interest.

In the event that a delegate of the FIFA Congress has a conflict of interest, such delegates shall not perform their duties in connection with, and the member association represented by such delegate shall decline to participate in, the voting process of the FIFA Congress for the decision to award the right for the hosting of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Delegates of the FIFA Congress shall, in particular, be considered to have a conflict of interest if they represent a member association whose bid is subject to the designation by the FIFA Council pursuant to article 3 par. 5 above for submission to the FIFA Congress for its final decision to select the host association(s) of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, or are a national of such member association’s country. Delegates of the FIFA Congress who decline to perform their duties in connection with the bidding procedure for the hosting of the 2026 FIFA World Cup shall notify the FIFA general secretariat immediately,” the regulations state.

In plain language: If you are a citizen of a bidding nation, you have a conflict of interest. In case of a conflict of interest, you shall decline to participate in the vote.

In a short statement to the Associated Press, FIFA said “FIFA’s member associations are entitled to participate and vote in the FIFA Congress.”

FIFA’s response to Morocco, sent on 4 May and signed by general secretary Fatma Samoura, said the following:

“[…] you request confirmation that the FIFA member associations of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands have notified the FIFA general secretariat that they would decline to participate in the voting for the decision to award the right to hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Since the member associations you have mentioned have not yet made any such notification to the FIFA general secretariat, we are not in a position to provide the requested information.
Any further questions arising in this context will be dealt with at the 68th FIFA congress in Moscow in accordance with the applicable regulatory framework.”

On 22 May, Samoura signed a circular sent to all FIFA member nations reminding them of the bidding regulations article 4.2, and asked associations who were to decline taking part in the vote to notify FIFA by 11 June at the latest.

We asked FIFA if they had received any notifications from these four associations. We also asked if these associations’ voting eligibility is in fact subject to article 4.2.
FIFA did not answer our questions, but made a statement (see end of this article).

A question for the council?
According to the letter signed by Samoura, the question will be dealt with at the 68th FIFA congress, taking place in Moscow on 13 June, but this issue does not appear to be an item on the congress agenda.
The agenda for the meeting of the 36-member FIFA council three days before the full FIFA congress does, however, specifically mention “associations not allowed to vote.”

We asked FIFA if the the four nations’ voting eligibility will be decided by the FIFA council or by the congress.
Again, FIFA did not answer.

Either way, it has created another conflict of interest issue, according to the Moroccans.

The Canadian Victor Montigliani and the American Sunil Gulati are both FIFA council members, as is United States citizen and representative from American Samoa, Sandra Fruean.  In a letter dated 27 April, the Moroccan bid asked whether these FIFA council members had notified their conflict of interest to the FIFA general secretariat, as per article 3.6 of the FIFA bidding regulations.

According to the regulations, “In the event that a member of the FIFA Council has a conflict of interest, such member shall not perform their duties in connection with the Bidding Procedure for the hosting of the final competition of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and shall in particular decline to participate in the voting process of the FIFA Council for the designation of the bids. A member of the FIFA Council shall, in particular, be considered to have a conflict of interest if they represent a member association that submitted a bid or are a national of such member association’s country. Members of the FIFA Council who decline to perform their duties in connection with the Bidding Procedure for the hosting of the final competition of the 2026 FIFA World Cup shall notify the FIFA general secretariat immediately.“

FIFA had not received any such notifications, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura replied on 4 May.
“Any further questions arising in this context will be dealt with in accordance with the applicable regulatory framework at the relevant upcoming FIFA Council meetings, in particular the FIFA Council meeting scheduled for 10 June 2018 in Moscow ,” she wrote.

We asked if these three council member will be allowed to be part of any decision-making process regarding this issue.
FIFA did not answer the question.

In an extremely tight race, these four votes could decide the outcome of the 2026 vote.
Who will decide whether they can vote?

The US view
At a press event in London on 6 June, the United bid was asked about their position on whether these four US territories should be allowed to vote.
“They’re FIFA member association, they have a right to vote, I don’t how you can change that. We’re not allowed to vote because we’re bidding, but they are completely separate federations,” United States Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro said.
“Look, FIFA looks at it as ‘one association, one vote’ – they have the same benefits as we do, enjoy the same privileges, they got a right to vote – we would have a right to vote if we weren’t running ourselves. It’s not our decision to make. Ultimately that decision will be made by the four associations and by FIFA. We would only stress that we got into this race on the presumption that any eligible association under FIFA rules, meaning not someone suspended, had the right to vote. And that includes the four.”

Asked whether it really could be expected that these associations would declare any confict of interest and decline to vote, Cordeiro said it was a discussion these association will have to have with “their confederations’ heads and FIFA.”
“We don’t make that decision.”

FIFA’s statement:
“We refer you to circular 1630, which is available on FIFA.com. As you can see in the circular, FIFA’s member associations have been asked to inform the FIFA general secretariat, by 11 June 2018 at the latest, whether their delegates intend to decline to perform their duties (including exercising their right to vote) in connection with the bidding procedure for the hosting of the 2026 FIFA World Cup during the upcoming FIFA Congress.

Regarding the next meeting of the FIFA Council, and particularly the designation of bids, we refer you to article 3.6 of the Bidding Regulations.”