As part of its push toward transparency, FIFA sent out the bid books of the two potential hosts of the 2026 World Cup – Canada/USA/Mexico and Morocco – on Monday.
As with tradition, these documents are doorstopper-sized travel pamphlets. They're heavy on the warmth of the people and light on dollar figures. The upshot might be described as "Don't worry, we'll figure it out."
A year ago, the North American bid was considered a prohibitive favourite because it offered qualities that cannot be purchased – reputational cover and financial safety.
The two coming World Cups in Russia and Qatar are freighted with all sorts of political baggage. In Russia's case, it gets worse by the day. At the current rate of decline, one or two of the visiting countries could be in a shooting war with their host come kickoff in three months time.
North America was meant to be a calm harbour from these problems – rich, stable and just enough outside the mainstream of world soccer that it felt like a neutral venue.
Then Donald Trump started talking. And things began to go sideways.
A few months ago, FIFA began a sieve-like leak of reports that Morocco – a country with major infrastructure challenges and a GDP 1/200th the size of the United States'– was moving into the lead. The suggestion was that Trump had made the United States bid toxic.
North American proxies moved in to wave away the wild idea that sports and politics have anything to do with each other or – even crazier – might be linked in people's minds.
"Whether it's the Olympics or the World Cup, we cannot control the politics," outgoing U.S. soccer boss Sunil Gulati saidin January. "It will change over time."
"Look, this is not geopolitics," Gulati's successor, Carlos Cordeiro, said a week ago. "We're talking about football and what fundamentally at the end of the day, what's the best interests of football and our footballing community, and we've had no backlash."
Soccer is not political, right, it's just a bunch of guys wearing the flag on their chest and crying at the anthem while everybody in the world watches. It couldn't be less political unless we grassed over the floor of Parliament and played the games there. Got it? Good.
That American Mutt and Jeff routine – "What's a Trump?" – sounds less credible once you start drilling down into the North American bid book. Amidst all the usual blather is a throwaway section entitled, "Identity and Standing in North America".
It's a quick précis of the political situation in the three countries. Easy peasy.
Canada goes first, which feels purposeful – "Canadians continue to view themselves as a stable, welcoming and open nation …"
Mexico gets glossed over with a short explanation of how elections work, as in they happen regularly.
But once we get to the United States, the bid authors feel the need to explain a few things.
The American section begins with this: "The political climate in the United States remains particularly polarized following a contentious election in 2016."
There's a nod at Congress – "historical data suggests that the makeup of both the House and the Senate will be dramatically different in 2026."
(Translation: We're praying the Democrats are back in charge.)
Then, in a short, remarkable passage, the United States jams their commander-in-chief under a back wheel of the bid bus.
"President Donald J. Trump's job approval currently registers at low levels in some surveys, but he enjoys significant support from his base. Due to term limits he will not be eligible to be President in 2026."
No other mention was made of who may or may not be leading this or that country in eight years time.
It goes on: "Though the image of the United States abroad may have suffered in some places, the United States is still viewed in positive terms by the majority of the world."
No mention was made of Mexico's more than 25,000 murders last year, its unresolved internal narcotics war and how that might affect its international image.
The inference is not subtle. In marketing terms, it's the equivalent of including a rubber mallet along with the cerloxed bid and asking readers to begin bashing themselves over the head as they read that page: "We want nothing to do with this guy and by the time this thing rolls around, we promise he'll be well out of the picture."
Now the North American bid will have to pray they can keep soccer off the radar of Fox News (and, therefore, Trump) until June.
That's when FIFA delegates vote on who will host in eight years time.
Since Fox is broadcasting the 2018 World Cup in the United States, that may be difficult. Once Trump starts tweeting, Morocco can start confidently renovating.
From a Canadian perspective, we've been focused on the specifics of a World Cup – where will it be and who will pay for it?
The bid book confirms the "where" part – Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal are Canada's aspirant host cities.
We're still not exactly sure who pays for it (Toronto's BMO Field and Montreal's Olympic Stadium will need extensive improvements).
That's not unusual with these things. Only a few things are guaranteed – it's going to be a lot more complicated and a lot more expensive than you were told; and by the time the event is rolling around, no one's going to be that happy about it.
If you buy that theory, Canada has finally found something to thank Donald Trump for. He's saving us a lot of cost and bother.
But for the United States, it's a new diplomatic low in a tidal wave of recent examples.
Two years ago, their World Cup bid would have been built around global admiration for the U.S. president and could have won on that basis.
Now, the United States is attempting to administratively disappear its own leader, and will probably still lose despite it.