Donald Trump tweeted about soccer on Thursday. And, in a wholly unsurprising development, he had no idea what he is talking about.
Specifically, President Trump tweeted about the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup. And if he would like that bid to succeed, he would be best off never tweeting about it again.
Trump effectively threatened political repercussions for countries whose soccer federations don’t vote for the “United Bid” – the U.S., Canada and Mexico – over its only competitor, Morocco.
The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2018
And for a few reasons, for the sake of the United Bid, that’s about the worst thing the president could have spent his Thursday evening doing.
Trump basically just broke FIFA rules
First of all, and probably most importantly, FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, has a rule that explicitly prohibits “any form of political interference” in the sport. And in the past, national soccer federations – such as, recently, Pakistan’s and Guatemala’s – have been suspended from international competition for violating the rule.
It mostly concerns soccer federations’ bylaws and countries’ laws, and cross-pollination involving the two entities. FIFA wants the federations operating independently. But it has been known to inconsistently and selectively enforce the rule. Trump’s tweet would seemingly be worth a warning at the very least.
But the bigger issue here is that, because of FIFA’s rule, the United States government’s “support” of other nations at a political level has nothing to do with who will vote for whom on June 13. Countries don’t vote; their soccer federations do. If politicians are influencing those federations, that constitutes government interference, and FIFA can take action.
So, in other words, Trump’s tweet wasn’t a great idea.
Trump also called it the “U.S. bid” …
… And that’s precisely a perception that the United Bid wants to shed. It didn’t help itself by revealing a plan where 60 of the 80 games would be held in the U.S., with 10 each in Mexico and Canada. But in more recent times, it has moved to present itself as more of an equal effort.
For example, in March, former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati stepped down as the bid’s chairman. He was replaced at the top by three co-chairs: Canada Soccer president Steven Reed, Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria, and new U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro. More than anything, it was a public relations ploy. And other recent PR efforts have attempted to sway popular perception in similar ways.
So Trump’s reference to the North American bid as the “U.S. bid” is not ideal.
In fact, Trump associating himself at all with the bid is problematic. Because he himself is one of the reasons the bid leaders want to distance themselves from the idea that this is a U.S.-led venture.
Trump is already hurting the bid
One of several factors keeping Morocco in this race as a legitimate contender for 2026 is the global perception of the Trump-led U.S. Several reports have indicated that. Gulati didn’t explicitly say it, but at a convention in Philadelphia in January, he did say, “This [bid] 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 continued, implicitly referencing some of the Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions: “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.”
Essentially, the North American bid is asking for votes from 207 people, or groups of people, whose fellow citizens don’t like the U.S. because they don’t like Trump. A recent Gallup poll of people in 134 countries revealed that the worldwide approval rating of U.S. leadership has dipped to 30 percent, the lowest recorded since the poll was first conducted over a decade ago.
So while politicians can’t directly influence the vote, their actions indirectly can. Every FIFA member association not involved in the bidding – so 207 of 211 – has one vote. Germany’s vote counts for as much as Guam’s. If a few soccer officials in tiny countries – perhaps some of which Trump infamously called “shithole countries” – have personal distastes for Trump’s policies, and back Morocco’s bid as a result, they could sway the vote.
In other words, Trump really needs to distance himself from this bid as much as possible – even if he’s not breaking FIFA rules, and even if he’s not misunderstanding the voting process. So please, President Trump, never tweet about soccer again.
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