London - World Cup 2026 bid leaders on Tuesday expressed their confidence that the joint US-Canada-Mexico campaign will be strong enough to withstand any political fallout from US President Donald Trump's reported labelling of some nations as "shithole countries".
Bid chairperson Sunil Gulati warned last week that political controversies involving Trump could hurt worldwide perceptions of America and damage the bid as they go head-to-head with Morocco.
He touched upon stormy US relations with North Korea, Trump's plan to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change in comments reported on ESPN's website.
When quizzed in London on Tuesday about the potential repercussions after Trump reportedly labelled African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as "shithole" nations, Gulati said the bid team could not control politics.
"It will change over time and we've got all the assurances we need from all three governments to support the bid in all areas that are important to FIFA or the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in an Olympic tournament," he said.
CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani tweeted his support for Haiti and El Salvador following the political firestorm earlier this month but he refused to directly condemn Trump when pushed by reporters on Tuesday.
"The politics of the day are always the politics of the day," said the president of the confederation for football in North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF).
"When we first started even thinking about bidding, which was years ago... there was the politics of the day back then.
"I can't even remember what it was to be quite honest with you but I'm sure there was a certain political environment. There is one right now and there will be one when we get to 2026.
"But consistently for us, from a bid perspective, it's always been about football and it will always be about football."
Gulati played down fears that fans from countries seen by Washington as a security risk would not be allowed to visit the tournament, saying they would be welcome to attend subject to security checks.
Gulati, who will remain chairman of the united bid committee despite his departure next month after 12 years as US Soccer's president, vowed that an expanded 48-team event with 80 games in the three countries would be an "unparalleled economic package".
"We can give you a couple of numbers which no one in the world can match and it's because of the size of our stadiums.... What we're talking about is five million tickets."
"The record for the World Cup, not just average attendance but total attendance, is still held by the 1994 World Cup (in the United States) even with the future tournaments having more games," he said, adding that 45-50 percent more spectators would be able to attend compared with other tournaments.
And he said the bid team would not fall into the complacency trap.
"It is about bringing our three countries together in what will be a first-ever joint bid that was planned as a joint bid, three big countries, an expanded World Cup and what this can mean for the football family. We are not taking anything for granted."
The deadline for the submission of bids to world governing body FIFA is March 16, 2018 and the FIFA Congress will decide whether to select one of the candidates in Moscow on June 13.