x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

The World Cup has the power to unite nations

The US is at odds with Canada and Mexico – but the three will jointly host the World Cup

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (R) poses for a picture with officials after the announcement, that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada, during the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow, Russia June 13, 2018. Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin 
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (R) poses for a picture with officials after the announcement, that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada, during the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow, Russia June 13, 2018. Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin 

History repeated itself – albeit partially – today when the joint United 2026 bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico won the right to stage the Fifa World Cup eight years from now.

In 1988, when the US was awarded the World Cup by Fifa for the first time, the losing country was Morocco.

Two decades later, Morocco, despite putting together an impressive bid, lost to the collective strength of United. Morocco can be proud of its strong effort.

Celebrations in the United camp, on the other hand, will have to occur under the shadow of the deep political cracks generated by US President Donald Trump.

Having antagonised Mexico and its people even before he became president, Mr Trump managed to alienate Canada recently by erecting new barriers to trade.

The past week has been full of ups and downs for the US president. The unprecedented criticism directed at him by G7 leaders after his attack on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was followed by an historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – and the victory for United’s bid, for which he lobbied Fifa’s hierarchy, will once again put Mr Trump and his policies under the international spotlight.

How, for instance, are fans to reconcile the message of fraternity advanced by United when Mr Trump’s rhetoric and policies have caused divisions with Canada and Mexico?

Fifa bids have always been competitive and, in spite of the best intentions to quarantine football from politics, national rivalries bleed into it – and the pitch is seen as more than a sporting arena.

To some spectators, as George Orwell once put it, sport is “mimic warfare” and some nations regrettably tend to “work themselves into furies” over football.

This does a disservice to the beautiful game, which brings together people of every religion, from all corners of the world, in appreciation of the hard work, skill and talent of the players.

Mo Salah's fans, lest we forget, transcend national, racial and religious boundaries – and more than three billion people tuned in to watch the 2014 World Cup.

That sporting spirit of fellowship, invoked by United in its bid, is the best antidote to our petty rivalries.