Blatter: North America Afraid to Lose World Cup

ZURICH (AP) — The North American bid to play host to the 2026 World Cup now seems “afraid” of losing to Morocco, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Thursday.

A change in strategy this week gave the leaders of the American, Canadian and Mexican soccer federations equal status in a bid that has been heavily favored to win the hosting rights on June 13 in Moscow. The reshuffle reduced the role of previous bid chairman Sunil Gulati, the most senior American in FIFA who served on the soccer body’s executive committee under Blatter.

“They give the impression that they are not any longer very sure that they will win, that’s my impression,” Blatter said. “But I don’t know why they are afraid.”

Last month, Blatter wrote on Twitter that Morocco was the “logical host” of the 2026 tournament. FIFA preferred single-nation World Cup hosts under Blatter’s leadership.

Still, Blatter declined to fully endorse Morocco’s ability to host a 48-team tournament alone. The 2026 edition will have the 16 extra teams wanted by Blatter successor Gianni Infantino, who supports multi-nation bids.

“I don’t know if the Moroccans are able to organize a World Cup of 48,” Blatter told invited reporters at a briefing in Zurich related to his own legal issues.

Both bids will formally submit plans next week. A FIFA-appointed panel will then evaluate the candidates and publicly score them for potential organizational and commercial risks.

Two days ahead of his 82nd birthday, Blatter said he was “a happy man.” He is still seeking to challenge a six-year ban from soccer for unethical conduct, a punishment that followed Swiss federal prosecutors opening criminal proceedings against him in September 2015.