New York - International political controversies involving US President Donald Trump could hurt worldwide perceptions of America and its joint 2026 World Cup bid with Canada and Mexico, outgoing US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati warned Thursday.
In comments reported on ESPN's website, made at a public forum in Philadelphia at the United Soccer Coaches convention, Gulati said he worries that political issues could hurt the North American bid and it "will be a tough battle" even with Morocco as the only rival bidder.
Advantages in stadium size and tourism infrastructure favor the Mexico-Canada-USA application but Gulati stressed that more is needed to convince voters given that the entire membership, rather than an executive council as in past balloting, will decide on June 13 whether to select one of the bids to host in 2026.
"We have to go out and convince what eventually will be 104 voters to vote for us," Gulati told the audience. "We would like to get a few extra not to make it a one-vote swing. But this won't be easy."
Gulati cited situations out of the bid group's control, touching upon stormy US relations with North Korea, Trump's plan to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
"This is not only about our stadiums and our hotels and all that. It's about perceptions of America and it's a difficult time in the world," Gulati said.
"So there are only certain things we can control. We can't control what happens at the 38th parallel in Korea, we can't control what happens with embassies in Tel Aviv and we can't control what happens with climate change accords. We do the best we can. We have the support of Washington."
Gulati will remain chairman of the united bid committee board of directors despite his departure next month after 12 years as US Soccer's president and following the Americans failure to qualify for this year's World Cup in Russia.
"I'm spending 90% of waking hours on (the bid) at this point," Gulati said.
In a US Soccer video, Gulati said that, "Regardless of whether other countries were bidding, we would treat this as a competition," and added, "We're going to treat every part of the bid application very seriously and exceed all of FIFA's standards and make it impossible to say why not USA, Mexico and Canada."