Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds the FIFA World Cup trophy as Coca-Cola Japan President Jorge Garduno, left, claps during a ceremony of a global tour of the trophy at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, April 27, 2018. The trophy will visit some 50 countries as it make its journey round the world to Moscow for the start of the World Cup 2018 in Russia. (Issei Kato/Pool Photo via AP)

Canada soccer officials hit the road to help sell 2026 World Cup bid

TORONTO — With the vote on the 2026 World Cup host less than a month away, Peter Montopoli is a man on the move.

The sales pitch for the joint bid by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has taken the general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association and colleagues around the globe in advance of the June 13 decision at the FIFA Congress in Moscow.

The so-called unified bid is up against Morocco in the race to host the men’s soccer showcase.

Montopoli, who doubles as Canada bid director, points to a 1969 comedy about a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Europe called “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.”

“That was me the last two weeks and we actually ended up on a Tuesday in Belgium,” he said.

Montopoli spent much of those two weeks meeting soccer officials in Asia, including stops in Jakarta, Bahrain and Oman, in addition to visits to Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg. While Montopoli returned to Canada, the bid tour continued to Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Montopoli will be in Lyon, France, for Wednesday’s Europa Cup final, rejoining bid officials for one final push in Europe.

CSA president Steven Reed and chief marketing officer Sandra Gage, along with U.S. and Mexican soccer officials, are also on the road making the unified bid case.

“We feel very good,” Montopoli said of the campaign.

He calls the message behind the unified bid “very accurate, 100 per cent truthful and very very compelling.”

The race to host the 2026 World Cup has taken place in a compressed schedule with bid books due into FIFA on March 16. Morocco and the unified bid have been selling their visions to member associations ever since.

Montopoli calls it a seven-week “international relations campaign.”

FIFA reforms have opened up the World Cup voting process, which in the past only involved the 24-person FIFA executive committee. This time every one of FIFA’s 211 member associations — save the bidding countries and any association under suspension — can vote.

So Germany, whose team tops the FIFA world rankings, has the same say as No. 207 Tonga.

The battle lines are already being drawn. CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, came out last month in favour of the unified bid. A group of Central America (UNCAF) countries is also supportive.

Montopoli says he expects CONCACAF, the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean, to be behind the home bid. It helps that CONCACAF president is Canadian Victor Montagliani.

“The rest of the world is what we’re working on currently,” Montopoli said.

The head of the French Football Federation president told L’Equipe his vote is going to Morocco. Government officials in Dominica and Saint Lucia reportedly said they are also for Morocco.

Montopoli points out it’s the view of member associations rather than government that count. Still, the politics of world soccer are often anything but clear.

The well-oiled unified bid machine has left little to chance, with a string of co-ordinated releases and news conferences. But not everything has been in lock-step.

Vancouver, Chicago and Minneapolis dropped out, at odds with the demands placed on host cities.

And tweets last month in support of the bid by U.S. president Donald Trump, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not go exactly according to plan when Trump’s message seemed to suggest that not supporting the bid might come at a cost.

“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)?”

Trump’s disparaging of African countries likely also did not go down well, although Montopoli says such comments have not come up in his travels.

Montopoli says the message behind their bid is football brings people together.

Once FIFA decides on the tournament host, it could make changes to the blueprint for the expanded 48-team competition. The current plan calls for the U.S. to host 60 games with 10 for Canada and 10 for the U.S.

One change may already be on the horizon.

“One concept that we’ve pushed very hard and has been incredibly received by the entire world when we’ve presented it is the opening-day concept of an opening match in each country,” said Montopoli. “So three opening matches, not just one.”

Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton are the Canadian host cities in the bid.

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