FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Thursday warned the United States and President Donald Trump that banning travelers from six Muslim-majority countries could negatively affect the country’s chances of hosting the 2026 World Cup.
The U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s American governing body, has been considering a bid ― whether by itself or in a joint effort with Mexico ― for the 2026 World Cup since losing out on the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But failure to guarantee access to the country for teams and athletes who qualify could jeopardize an American bid, Infantino cautioned.
“It’s obvious when it comes to FIFA competitions as well, any team, including the supporters and officials of that team, who qualify for a World Cup need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup,” Infantino said, according to the Associated Press.
Infantino avoided directly criticizing Trump, saying that the president is “in charge, together with his government, to take decisions that are best for his country. That’s why he has been elected.”
Last month, a federal court struck down Trump’s original ban, which restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority nations and temporarily barred refugees from entering the country. Trump issued a revised order this week that bans non-visa holders from six of those countries from traveling to the U.S. The new version, which is now facing legal challenges and may also be unconstitutional, still temporarily disbands refugee resettlement programs.
It’s unclear how or whether the ban would actually affect the 2026 World Cup, given that it won’t take place until after Trump leaves office. But it could have an impact on how FIFA voters view the United States during the bidding process, which will likely begin this year. Infantino said FIFA is currently finalizing bid requirements.
“The requirements will be clear,” he said. “And then each country can make up their decision, whether they want to bid or not based on the requirements. It’s general sporting criteria.”
In February, a Tibetan women’s soccer team failed to secure visas to travel to an April tournament in Dallas, after officials at the U.S. embassy in India told 16 players they had “no good reason to visit the U.S.” India, where the Tibetan players live, is not among the seven countries listed in Trump’s original ban, or the six included in the new one.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was among the critics of Trump’s original travel ban, which he said was not “consistent with a lot of American values.”
Gulati said at the time that it was too early to determine how the ban ― which had some effect on the sports world and was criticized by many athletes, including U.S. Men’s National Team captain Michael Bradley ― might affect the federation’s plan to bid on the 2026 World Cup.
Even during the 2016 campaign, Gulati suggested that Trump’s election could hurt American efforts to host the World Cup, in part because of the then-candidate’s comments about Mexico and Mexican immigrants.
“I think the world’s perception of the U.S. is affected by who is in the White House, yes, so it has some bearing, sure,” Gulati said in June. “I think a co-hosted World Cup with Mexico would be trickier if Secretary Clinton isn’t in the White House.”
Gulati walked those comments back after Trump’s victory in November, saying that the federation looked forward to working with the president if it decided to bid on the 2026 World Cup.