US leaders should embrace the bid to host the World Cup
© Getty Images

Earlier this spring, the United States made sports history by submitting a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico. The U.S. has been notoriously slow to embrace a sport that is part of the cultural fabric throughout most of the world, often serving as a unifying force among countries that have very few other things in common. 

In addition to providing an opportunity for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to unite and rally around a common goal, the joint bid could prove to be a turning point that finally brings the U.S. onto the global field of a sport that offers countless cultural, societal, and economic benefits.

ADVERTISEMENT
Soccer is practically a religion in most African, European, and South American countries, and its popularity continues to expand through Asia. The sport only gained a foothold in the U.S. a few decades ago, but its appeal has steadily increased since then. Hosting the World Cup would put soccer's fan base here on a par with the rest of the world — bringing us into a global community from which we have until now been conspicuously absent.

 

No other sport's popularity compares to the juggernaut that is soccer. More than one billion people tuned in to watch the last FIFA World Cup. In comparison, 19 million viewers watched the NBA finals, 75 million watched the World Series, and 112 million watched the Super Bowl – a total of only about 320 million people, less than one-third of soccer’s audience. 

Soccer's appeal isn't hard to understand. The game moves quickly, and requires a level of athleticism, precision, and quick-thinking strategy that makes it riveting to watch; it's also easy for anyone to play, requiring nothing more elaborate than a patch of land and a ball. But what makes it vital to so many different societies on so many different levels, taking it beyond just a pastime and into the realm of the mythical, is its very internationality.

When we watch international matchups, we are watching the clash of two cultures that for centuries have been practicing the art of soccer in completely different fashions. The way each country approaches the sport often reflects their social, economic, or political climate. In many countries, soccer offers an escape from larger problems, which probably helps explain the intense attachment the fans have to their teams — an intensity that's magnified by international matches.

International matchups bring together fans from countries that might have very little to do with each other otherwise, breeding a unique kind of unity and familiarity. The average Brazilian may not be an expert on EU politics, but they know that Italian soccer players are strong on defense and notorious for exaggerating injuries, the Spanish are masters at near-surgical passing, Germans wear opponents down with physical and offensive play, and the French almost always rely on superstars and defensive sides. The Brazilians themselves are famous for their agile tricks and a fancy style that's particularly entertaining to watch.

Almost every country in the world, from Group of Eight members to emerging economies, has a strong soccer infrastructure whose leaders recognize the importance of diversity, of bringing together players with a range of skills derived from a vibrant mix of backgrounds. The best clubs often scour the world for young prodigies, recruiting the most promising athletes from all over the globe. To cite one example, Paris's Saint-Germain soccer club combines players from Uruguay, Argentina, France, Italy, Brazil, and Germany.

FIFA will announce the winning World Cup bidder a year from now, at the 68th annual FIFA Congress in Moscow.

In the meantime, America’s business and government leaders should take every step possible to support the bid and build public support for it. As the world grows more and more divided, it's important to embrace every opportunity to unite. Soccer is a profound unifier that knows neither borders nor oceans, social class nor ethnicity. No other sport boasts a stronger international community, and we've held ourselves at a distance from that community for too long.

Cécilia Attias is the former First Lady of France, founder of the Cécilia Attias Foundation for Women, and Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at Richard Attias & Associates and a dedicated advocate for human rights, women's empowerment, and education.


The views of contributors are theirs and not the views of The Hill.