DOHA: The 2026 football World Cup could be split between up to four countries, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Thursday, announcing the organisation would encourage applications to co-host the tournament.
"We will encourage co-hosting for the World Cup because we need FIFA to show we are reasonable and we have to think about sustainability long-term," Infantino said.
"(We could) ...maybe bring together two, three, four countries who can jointly present a project with three, four, five stadiums each. We will certainly encourage it. Ideally the countries will be close to each other."
His remarks could open the way to a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico, which have already said they intend to hold discussions over the possibility.
At the end of last year Victor Montagliani, president of the Concacaf federation that the three countries belong to, said he expected formal discussions to start once "all the rules and regulations" related to the bid were announced.
Concern has been raised about the financial burden placed on a single tournament host, and the bad publicity generated by stadiums built and then abandoned after use.
The only time FIFA has previously sanctioned co-hosting was in 2002 when Japan and South Korea staged a tournament that was widely heralded as a success.
The idea has taken off at the European Championship, with Belgium and the Netherlands co-hosting in 2000, Austria and Switzerland in 2008 and Poland and Ukraine in 2012. The next tournament in 2020 has been designated as Pan-European and is due to be staged in 13 cities in 13 counties.
Swedish FA chair Karl-Erik Nilsson quickly backed co-hosting for the World Cup too.
"It's a good idea, and Europe has of course previously worked in this way on the European Championships," he said.
"We are used to it and it works well, it makes it possible for more countries to arrange (tournaments), and in that way it is positive."
But there is likely to be opposition from fans' groups, given the higher cost involved in following a team through different countries.
Joint hosting could also raise security concerns.
Brazil's Maracana, which staged the last World Cup final in 2014, has become unusable in recent months, sitting with rusting gates and with a badly damaged playing area following a dispute over repair costs and redevelopment.
Full confidence in Russia
Infantino played down concerns about possible violence at the 2018 World Cup in Russia despite several flashpoints involving their supporters at the 2016 European Championship in France.
"I'm not concerned about trouble and violence in 2018. I have full confidence in Russian authorities, they are taking this matter very, very seriously," he said in Doha.
More than 100 England fans were injured following clashes with Russian supporters in Marseille before their group game at Euro 2016, causing UEFA to threaten the team with expulsion from the tournament.
There have been fears of more trouble at next year's tournament. But Infantino said the organisers were already putting plans in place to curb any hooliganism.
"They have been in contact with UEFA and French organisers to learn the lessons from France and this matter is being taken in the utmost seriousness by all," he said.
"As part of this, the Russian government has put in place an ID system which will help us when it comes to any potential trouble. We need to be wary about spreading rumours about hooligans."
He was speaking ahead of a BBC documentary due to air on Thursday evening, which claims to have spoken to some of the Russian hooligans involved in the 2016 trouble.
Infantino also reaffirmed that he hoped to use video referees at the tournament.
"The proposal on the table is about using video technology to help referees. I'm really hopeful that for the World Cup in 2018 we can have a video system to help the referee take the right decisions," he said.
The new assistant referee technology was tried out at the 2016 Club World Cup in Japan.
But Infantino played down suggestions that FIFA was about to scrap the offside rule, following controversial remarks by its technical director Marco van Basten.
"We discuss and debate everything, the offside rule, sin bins as punishments, additional substitutions, but these are discussions that are still far, far, far away from any concrete proposals," he said. -- Reuters