North American 2026 World Cup bid makes leadership changes

The joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico to win the hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup has undergone a leadership shuffle aimed at changing the bid's campaign tactics. ESPN reported last week that the bid could be in jeopardy.

In a letter sent to the other FIFA member associations, the United Bid Committee announced that the three federation presidents -- Steven Reed of Canada Soccer, the Mexico Football Federation's Decio de Maria, and the U.S. Soccer Federation's Carlos Cordeiro -- have been elevated to co-chairs of the United Bid Committee.

Former USSF president Sunil Gulati will no longer hold the title of chairman, though he remains on the United Bid Committee's board of directors.

According to sources with knowledge of the decision, the move was made in response to the recent election of Cordeiro as USSF president, as well as the perception that the bid, while comprised of three countries, was looked upon as a U.S.-led effort. That view had been reinforced by Gulati's position as chairman, as well as the fact that the bid proposal will see the U.S. host 60 of the 80 games.

"As the three co-chairs of our United Bid, we are proud to represent the shared commitment of the people of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to hosting the first ever 48-team FIFA World Cup with unity and unparalleled stability and certainty," the letter read. "We are grateful that Sunil Gulati, who served as chair prior to the recent election, will continue to serve on the United Bid Committee Board."

Gulati wrote on Twitter: "As we move from bid to campaign mode, appropriate for [federation] presidents to take lead. Looking forward to working with the 3 co-chairs and supporting the process. We are as unified as ever to bring 2026 FIFA World Cup to North America."

Now the approach is for all three federation presidents to have equal responsibility to represent the bid and lobby other member associations on its behalf. This is to reinforce the message that the bid is about unity among the three countries.

Gulati and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani are expected to continue to use their positions on the FIFA Council to support the bid, but in a less visible way.

"United, as one, Canada, Mexico, and the United States are ready to host the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and help propel the global game to new heights," the letter said.

"Together, we represent a unified vision that transcends national borders and politics. We are determined to show that in challenging times when forces around the globe too often pull people apart, football can remind us of the common values and ideals-humanity, friendship and mutual respect-that unite us as fellow human beings."

The move comes amid concerns that the joint bid, long considered the favorite to win the hosting rights, is in danger of losing out to Morocco.

As multiple high-ranking football executives told ESPN last week, the North American bid is facing resentment from voters over the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into FIFA corruption as well as a response to the foreign policies of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.

In addition, each federation's vote will be made public, making continental bloc votes more likely. Morocco -- the only other country bidding for the hosting rights -- is viewed as gaining ground among member associations in Africa, Asia, and South America, thus making the vote much closer than anticipated.

The deadline for submitting the bid is March 16 during a meeting of the FIFA Council in Bogota, Colombia. The vote to determine the host for the 2026 World Cup will take place in Moscow on June 13, just prior to the start of the 2018 World Cup.

Cordeiro has said the North American bid is a top priority as he begins his tenure as U.S. Soccer president.

Mexico's De Maria last week said he would be stepping down from his role as president after this summer's World Cup in Russia.