2026 World Cup Taking a Political Spin in North America
FIFA’s guideline on human rights confronts U.S. 's diplomacy
The World Cup is widely regarded as a cultural platform for people from different countries to collectively celebrate. And while this is how the World Cup is advertised and perceived, there is no doubt that the event also carries political undertones. When the U.S., Mexico, and Canada were announced as the hosts of the 2026 World Cup, it marked a shift in our relationship to the tournament given the close proximity of the event.
A temporary borderless zone will be created in North America during the month-long tournament as spectators and players alike travel between the three locations. Today, while the U.S. tries to tackle illegal border crossing from Mexico and engages in a trade war with Canada, such an arrangement seems to contradict Trump’s agenda. While the host countries strive to appear modern, diverse, and welcoming, it is easy to overlook the conflicts and struggles within and between countries. Illegal immigration has long been a problem between the U.S. and Mexico. President Trump’s push for the border wall policy was widely criticized for being inconsiderate toward families and the immigrants already in the States. With stories of families being separated and immigrants being denied citizenship, the U.S. gives off an image very different from that of an ideal World Cup host country. Given the current status, hosting a world event across three countries with significant division over diplomacy could be challenging.
According to FIFA’s “Guide to the Bidding Process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup”, the host government is required to establish a visa-free environment during the tournament in a non-discriminatory manner. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban in a 5-4 ruling in June, putting strict restrictions on travelers from seven countries to the United States. This ban was questioned given FIFA’s guideline. The New York Times reported that President Trump had written three letters to the U.S. soccer officials since March, promising and clarifying the government’s stance. The letters guaranteed free access for qualified teams, officials and fans and specifically pointed out that Trump’s strict policy on visas would not apply to the World Cup. However, the irony is evident as the U.S. adjusts its policy exclusively for the World Cup. Today, immigrants are still put under strict restrictions and border crossers still face harsh punishments. The so called “visa-free” environment is only a compromise the government made for greater benefit in other aspects such as the economy and foreign relations.
In the previous years, labor conditions and abuse have been a major concern in host countries. Today, the 2026 World Cup is the first tournament in which a human rights report is required from each bidding association. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have been assessed by the Business for Social Responsibility to have medium ratings on human rights. Aspects like worker conditions, public safety, visa, and freedom of the press are taken into consideration.
The World Cup is regarded as more than just a soccer tournament. The great scale and impact of this world event ties it to the lives of soccer fans en masse as well as international social and political issues. “...[Host countries] hide poverty, dissatisfaction, and all antagonisms under the rug for a month while the world is looking,” professor Mariano Siskind said during an interview with the Harvard Gazette. It seems that, although hosting the World Cup can be a great way to invite tourism into the host country while showcasing its economic capabilities, it does not accurately represent the conditions of the country. As both the audience and citizens, it is important to be aware of the difference between marketed and realistic images of the host country. Hopefully, while countries compete to become hosts of the World Cup, FIFA’s attempted focus on human rights will bring an awareness and, possibly, improvements on existing issues in potential host countries. After all, all the soccer fans want is a safe, fair competition without discrimination or exclusion.