U.S. Travel Restrictions Would Damage 2026 World Cup Bid, UEFA President Says

Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, has said the United States bid to host the 2026 World Cup could be hampered by travel restrictions put in place by the Trump administration. Credit: Martial Trezzini/European Pressphoto Agency

NYON, Switzerland — The United States’ hopes of hosting the World Cup in 2026 will be damaged, perhaps critically, if President Trump’s travel restrictions come into full force, Europe’s top soccer official said.

Aleksander Ceferin, installed last year as president of UEFA, the sport’s governing body in Europe, said measures that might prevent players, fans or journalists from attending the event would count against any bid. The United States is a clear favorite to be awarded the 2026 tournament, either on its own or as part of a joint North American bid with Mexico and Canada.

But in an interview at UEFA’s headquarters last week, Mr. Ceferin said immigration policy would be among the areas considered during the evaluation of a United States bid, and he suggested that it would “not help” if Mr. Trump succeeded in placing harsher restrictions on travel to the United States from certain countries in the near term. Though Mr. Trump’s initial 90-day ban on immigration and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was overturned by a federal court, he has vowed to introduce a second executive order that could limit travel from those nations, at least temporarily.

“It will be part of the evaluation, and I am sure it will not help the United States to get the World Cup,” Mr. Ceferin said. “If players cannot come because of political decisions, or populist decisions, then the World Cup cannot be played there. It is true for the United States, but also for all the other countries that would like to organize a World Cup.

“It is the same for the fans, and the journalists, of course. It is the World Cup. They should be able to attend the event, whatever their nationality is. But let’s hope that it does not happen.”

The Trump administration’s proposed 90-day ban applied only to seven countries, but it caught the eye of world soccer officials because at least three of those countries have national teams that could be affected if it becomes more than a temporary policy. One of them, Iran, has played in the World Cup three times since 1998, and two others — Iraq and Syria — have joined Iran in the later rounds of Asian qualifying for next year’s tournament in Russia.

U.S. Soccer declined to comment on Mr. Ceferin’s remarks on Sunday. Though it has not publicly confirmed its intention to bid for the tournament, the federation has expressed confidence that it would receive all the governmental guarantees needed to meet FIFA’s criteria for admitting visiting players and fans, and that no ban — temporary or otherwise — would be in place for the tournament. FIFA’s rules do not dictate that any potential hosts have entirely open borders.

“Sixteen teams and each European team in a different group is the red line,” he said. “That is what we will insist on. The others are still discussing. That will happen, or we will make things quite complicated.

Mr. Ceferin also acknowledged that more stringent immigration policies could harm Britain’s chances of hosting major finals once that country exits the European Union. The Champions League final will have been held in Britain three times in the last nine years — twice at Wembley Stadium in London and this June at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales — and the semifinals and final of the 2020 European Championship are set for London.

“I was very disappointed when Aurier, from P.S.G., was not allowed to enter England,” he said. “That will worsen when ‘Brexit’ happens, especially if the reasons were as formal. We could have a serious problem.”

“But if we see that players cannot enter because they have any sort of procedure ongoing, then we will simply think if we should play our European matches there,” he said. “Neymar and Lionel Messi both have procedures going on. This year, the Champions League final is in Cardiff. Imagine if they did not let them in. That is a big thing for us, if players from England can travel anywhere but players from other teams cannot travel to England. With free movement in Europe, it is much better.

“Even in 2020, if ‘Brexit’ has happened, then it can be a big problem for fans. That stays firm, and we will speak to the British government, and I am sure the English Football Association will help us.”

Source: NYTimes