Trump, Tillerson pledged to ease travel ban to win World Cup bid
© Getty Images

The Trump administration has repeatedly assured soccer’s world governing body that it would ease restrictions on travel in hopes of winning the right to host the World Cup in 2026.

In several letters sent to FIFA in recent months, President TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE, then-Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonUS steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business Matt Drudge shares mock ‘Survivor’ cover suggesting more White House officials will leave this summer 'Daily Show' trolls Trump over Pruitt's resignation MORE and others have said the U.S. would allow fans from countries around the world — including those subject to Trump’s ban on travel from several majority Muslim countries — to enter the country to attend the games.

ADVERTISEMENT
 

The existence of the letters was first reported by the New York Times. A source familiar with the letters, and the joint bid between the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 games, described them to The Hill. 

Representatives from national soccer federations around the world, meeting this week in Moscow ahead of this year’s tournament, will choose the location of the 2026 games, a contest between the joint U.S.-Canada-Mexico bid and a bid from Morocco. 

Many countries had raised concerns that Trump’s travel ban, and the administration’s strict immigration policies, would prevent their fans from entering the U.S. to attend the event.

Iran, one of the countries included in the travel ban, has qualified for three of the last four World Cup tournaments. Syria, another country on the banned list, nearly made the list of 32 teams that will compete this year — a list that will expand to 48 teams in 2026.

Weeks before he was fired, Tillerson wrote to FIFA president Gianni Infantino on March 12 to tell him the U.S. government intended to issue visas for anyone who wanted to watch the games. But FIFA asked for stronger guarantees.

In a May 2 letter, Trump told Infantino that everyone participating in or attending the games would be welcome.

“[A]ll eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination, in keeping with FIFA’s requirements and subject to the impartial application of United States law,” Trump wrote. 

Federal agencies will establish a single point of contact to coordinate visa requests for the 2026 World Cup, the source familiar with the joint bid said. The United States has proposed putting together a working group with Canadian and Mexican officials to create a multi-country fan identification, once visitors receive their visas.

Trump has openly lobbied to win the right to host the games, both via Twitter and during a press conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. 

The comments, made alongside Buhari on April 30 during a Rose Garden event, were broadly interpreted as a thinly-veiled threat against countries considering a vote for Morocco’s bid. 

“I hope all African countries and countries throughout the world, that we also will be supporting you and that they will likewise support us in our bid, along with Canada and Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” Trump said at the time.

Brett Samuels contributed.

Updated at 1:04 p.m.