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US gets Russia's World Cup vote as logic trumps politics
By ROB HARRIS
MOSCOW (AP) The United States was able to celebrate a World Cup victory in Russia after all. Thanks to assistance from the host nation at a FIFA Congress addressed by President Vladimir Putin.
For all the geopolitical tensions between the superpowers, Russia had no qualms about pressing the electronic keypads to select the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico over Morocco in the 2026 World Cup hosting vote in Moscow on Wednesday.
"Football is separate from politics," said Alexander Alayev, acting president of the Russian football federation. "Morocco prepared a very strong and interesting bid, but the unified bid was much stronger in all aspects."
Maybe, finally, some sports officials made decisions based on existing merits and what is best for the game, rather than following political agendas.
"This should not be about geopolitics," U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said. "This was not a vote in the United Nations."
The U.S. may have hoped for a vote from North Korea after the rapprochement between the nations during an extraordinary summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea instead opted for the Moroccan proposals that were dismissed by FIFA inspectors as high-risk in three areas and overwhelmingly rejected by the football world.
Morocco wasn't even able to harness unanimous support from Africa, with 11 federations voting against their continental counterpart.
Despite his country voting for Morocco, Cameroon federation official Kevin Njomo accepted the World Cup would be "more profitable in America."
Morocco also didn't get full support from other Muslim-majority nations, with Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among the 134 backers of the North American bid.
Has there really been an outbreak of common sense at a governing body where the specter of wrongdoing has hung over decisions in recent years? The 69 majority for North America meant FIFA avoids a fifth consecutive risky, tricky World Cup after South Africa, Brazil, Russia, which opens on Thursday without a U.S. team, and Qatar in 2022.
Where Morocco needed to spend billions of dollars building or renovating all 14 proposed stadiums, North America could host the World Cup almost immediately if needed.
Ultimately, Morocco's record on human rights and lack of protections for the LGBT community, which were criticized by FIFA, might have helped to swing the decision.
Unlike the contentious dual votes in 2010 for Russia and Qatar, this time the inspection reports of each bid were a guide for voters from FIFA's full membership.
In an unexpected late intervention after presentations on Wednesday, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura gave the North American bid one final push before the ballot when she summarized the review task force's verdict that saw Morocco fare so poorly.
Not only did she remind delegates about Morocco's lack of infrastructure but highlighted the North American bid's ability to deliver double the revenue at $14 billion.
Obviously, money talks.
"We tried to make the case of what's best for FIFA," Cordeiro said. That means swelling the coffers from FIFA's signature tournament to allow President Gianni Infantino to distribute cash to the around the world to member federations.
The only real stumbling block on the campaign for the North Americans was concern about the impact of Trump's push for immigration restrictions and a leaked White House outburst about African nations.
The bid team believed it wasn't insurmountable.
"The politics of today may not be the politics of next year or five years or eight years down the road," Canada's federation president Steven Reed said.
Indeed, the U.S. passed this global test of popularity, aided by the inclusion of Canada and Mexico on the ticket.
"The unity of the three nations came together to offer what no one nation including my own can provide today," Cordeiro said. "I think that was a powerful message. That is something we repeated and repeated over again. I think it made the difference at the end."
No wonder Infantino described himself as a "happy man." FIFA, it appears, got just what it wanted.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports
Updated June 13, 2018