Rabat – As the 2026 World Cup bid vote draws near, the practical concerns and deeper safety implications of Islamophobia in the US could jeopardize the United bid prior to the June 13 vote.
Despite FIFA’s claims that the World Cup focus on football, rather than “geopolitics,” international concerns surrounding Trump’s travel ban and the corresponding rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes in North America continue to trouble global football fans.
Islamophobic fear-mongering has served as a benchmark of US President Trump’s stance on refugees, immigration, and anti-terrorism policy since the early days of his campaign.
Trump’s avid use of social media has regularly stirred political backlash on an array of issues. However, his brash Islamophobic public statements, which includes his endorsement of the far-right, known anti-Muslim British propaganda group, Britain First, has generated concern throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Tensions spiked when the American president called for a complete shutdown on Muslim immigration in January 2017, which he later applied to six Muslim-majority countries, issuing a travel ban by executive order.
Practical Barriers of a Muslim Travel Ban
Since its original issuance, the ban has shifted to cover Iran, Chad, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, with additional travel restrictions placed on North Korea and Venezuela.
Protests in the streets and courtrooms alike stirred the US in the months that followed the executive order, as lower courts challenged the legality of the travel ban and citizens protested the division of loved ones and general immigration insecurity throughout the country.
The long-term implications of the ban have also been reverberating throughout the football world, with the World Cup bid vote less than two months away.
In a press conference held in March, US Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro emphasized FIFA’s lack of a response to Trump’s travel ban and public xenophobic sentiments.
“This is not geopolitics. We are talking about football,” said the chief of the US federation.
Though FIFA did not directly respond to MWN’s queries on the effects of the travel ban for Muslim participants and spectators, FIFA President Gianni Infantino already answered the question last year.
The FIFA chief expressed his concerns over Trump’s immigration policy in March 2017, when he warned the United bid that Trump’s travel ban could prevent the state from hosting the tournament in 2026.
“Teams who qualify for a World Cup need to have access to the country, otherwise there is no World Cup. That is obvious,” Infantino told British press, emphasizing the incompatibility of Trump’s policy with FIFA regulations.
The chairman of the United bid, Sunil Gulati, echoed Infantino’s statement in January, “This is not only about our stadiums and hotels. It is about perceptions of America…it is a difficult time for theworld,” he said.
MWN reached out to prominent human rights organizations to better understand how the travel ban could set a new precedent in the football world or, alternatively, serve as a basis for the United joint bid disqualification.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) responded, characterizing the travel ban as clearly discriminatory and predicting that it will serve as an obvious barrier to football fans hoping to cheer on their respective national teams.
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will evaluate Trump’s travel ban. Several lower courts and states, including Hawaii, have urged SCOTUS to block the ban, describing it as a violation of federal immigration law and the US Constitution.
MWN contacted the US embassy in Morocco for further comment regarding the potential barriers the travel ban could create for the United 2026 World Cup bid, but did not receive a response.
Beyond the Ban
Beyond structural barriers alone, the travel ban exemplifies deeper security implications for Muslim spectators. In addition to the heightened surveillance that Muslims in the US have faced for the previous two decades, derogatory public speech and Islamophobic hate crimes have seen a significant uptick over the past few years.
Read Also: Supreme Court to Evaluate Trump’s Travel Ban
A report by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) revealed that hate crimes in the US dramatically increased in 2016, with 6,100 incidents documented, an increase of more than 5,800 from the previous year. Anti-Muslim hate crimes composed more than 54 percent of the nationwide total.
Hate-motivated crimes extend to the other United bid nations: Canada experienced a 28-percent increase in hate crimes in 2017, according to CBC Canada. Data from Canada Statistics reports that hate crimes in Canada in 2016 increased for the third consecutive year, particularly targeting people of South Asian, Asian, and Arab descent.
Dare to be Direct
Try as he might to depoliticize the football world’s premier event, US Soccer’s Cordeiro has done little to assuage international concerns regarding the practical limitations of a travel ban and apprehension over spectator safety surrounding the tournament.
His dissociation of “geopolitics” from the football field ignores the fact that the sporting world has always reflected various forms of discrimination among athletes, coaches, managerial staff, and spectators. One need only to look at the Olympic Games–Jesse Owens in 1936, the US women’s basketball team in 1976–to see how athletics reflect the historical moment.
With mounting concerns for spectator and athlete safety, particularly for Muslims and Arabs more generally, perhaps the issue of discrimination should be elevated, rather than ignored at this stage, so that come summer 2026 football fans can enjoy the best possible tournament.
Despite its leader status at the outset of the bid race and claims of infrastructural superiority, United 2026 appears to be losing steam, as global football federations pledge their support to the Moroccan bid.
As the countdown to the World Cup bid vote draws near, MWN has developed a series of articles to tackle root issues that will determine the future of World Cup 2026, when 211 football federations from around the world will gather for the final Moscow vote on June 13.