MOSCOW — When the officials leading the US bid to host the 2026 World Cup — a joint effort with Mexico and Canada — hit the campaign trail in earnest this year, they quickly encountered uncomfortable questions from soccer associations around the world concerned about President Trump’s travel restrictions on people from many countries.
How could a country host the world’s most-watched sporting event if it were inhospitable to visitors? Would visas be granted, some federations asked, to all teams and their fans if their countries qualified?
With a rival bid from Morocco mounting a surprisingly strong challenge, the concerns could not be ignored. But if the North American bid is victorious Wednesday, when soccer officials around the world will vote to award the 2026 World Cup, the US soccer leadership will thank one person for helping them convince the world that Trump’s policies would not be a factor: Trump himself.
Since March, Trump has provided US soccer officials with three letters addressed to Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. Each letter, part of an extensive but largely unseen US government effort to support the bid, contained increasingly specific guarantees that foreign teams, officials, and even fans will face no restrictions on entering the United States for World Cup matches in 2026 if their countries qualify for the tournament. In effect, the letters assured officials voting on the event that Trump’s hard-line stance on visas would not apply to the World Cup.
In the most recent letter, dated May 2, Trump cites the 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games and the 1994 World Cup as examples of major international events hosted by the United States, and he assures FIFA that “I am confident that the United States would host the 2026 FIFA World Cup in a similarly open and festive manner, and that all eligible athletes, officials, and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination.”
Of course, a second Trump term would end in 2025, more than a year before the event. That has not seemed to matter, soccer officials from the United States, Mexico, and Canada said Monday. What has eased the minds of some voters, US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said, is the mere existence of his letters — printed on crisp White House letterhead and marked with Trump’s distinctive, inch-high signature at the bottom.
“You know, in this environment, he says that, in writing — it’s pretty powerful,” he said.
To produce the letters from Trump, the White House began an interagency review to craft the language in them, according to a person familiar with the bid. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and his team also kept in touch with Canada and Mexico in what were sometimes the only harmonious interactions with the United States’ neighbors amid loud public clashes over trade and immigration.
Kushner leveraged his relationship with the Saudi royal family to get Riyadh to publicly announce its support for the North American effort.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first with 48 teams, up from the current 32, and the sheer scale of the undertaking — more than 1,100 players, plus the requisite stadiums, training sites, hotels and transportation infrastructure to accommodate their federations and their fans — had made the North American bid an early favorite.
But the World Cup also requires that the host open its doors to all, and Trump’s comments about immigrants, African countries, and Muslims quickly became a talking point. For example, Iran, one of six predominantly Muslim countries on a list of eight countries Trump has sought to limit travel from, has qualified for the past two World Cups.
There were other issues, too. A North American World Cup almost certainly would mean increased cross-border travel at a time when Trump has pushed for tightened borders. So officials with the bid began asking for letters to reassure FIFA and its voters that its effort had the full support of the US government.