By RICARDO CASTILLO
The Mexican election got rolled over by soccer as of Thursday, June 14, only two days after the third and last of presidential debates.
Most analysts and commentators nitpicked the claims, accusations, outright lies and statements of grandeur by some of the candidates. For most, if not all, political observers the end of the debates meant the end of the Mexican electoral campaign, which was bottled up as soon as the Russian World Cup 2018 kicked off.
To even further overshadow the election, on Wednesday, June 13, the world soccer federation FIFA unanimously voted to have Mexico, the United States and Canada hold the 2026 World Cup, which was immediately touted as the “NAFTA World Cup,” even though the organizers officially called it “United 2026.”
But the fact that the attention of Mexicans will go overwhelmingly to the World Cup for the next month does not mean that the Mexican election is over. Far from it. The race will continue until its conclusion on July 1, when – all pundits agreed on Thursday – National Regeneration Movement (Morena) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) will be elected as the 2018-2024 president of Mexico.
And this is not merely my opinion. Most of those now admitting AMLO’s impending victory hate his guts, but he is winning in each and every poll available. And for the most part, all the great foreign investors in the nation, such as Citibank, were hoping for someone other than “populist” AMLO, but are now making plans for economic stability in the hope that maybe there is life after AMLO.
In fact, Citibank (Citibanamex) is focusing not so much on who will be president, but what the new make-up of Congress will be, with AMLO’s party Morena getting the lion’s share of seats both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, although not a full majority. Also, Morena may win five out of nine elections for governor.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurial leaders are bracing themselves with the idea that Mexico’s political landscape is in for a jolt that they hope will not upset the markets, causing further devaluation or even bringing about a massive capital flight.
Other than that, up until June 27, all the political contenders will continue stumping as usual, The amount of attention the Mexican people pay to the process will be greatly diminished as the Russian 2018 World Cup rolls on.
THE NAFTA WORLD CUP
Of course, calling the 2026 World Cup “the NAFTA games” is done with a grain of salt because at the end of the Donald Trump administration(s), if reelected in 2020, there may be no NAFTA left.
Yet the fact that winning the World Cup for the North American nations was a feat of three different national soccer federations, the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican.
Immediately after FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced the winners, the first to literally jump out of his chair in the audience was Mexican Soccer Federation president Decio de María, who not only masterminded, but led the effort to win the World Cup.
Decio de María held a brief press conference with counterparts Carlos Cordeiro and Steven Reed of the U.S. and Canada soccer federations, as well as with regional CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean Soccer Confederation) president Victor Montagliani of Canada.
Ironically, the shape of the 2026 World Cup organization is pretty much what Trump would like to see for NAFTA. There will be a total of 80 games, out of which 60 will be played in the United States, 10 in Mexico and 10 in Canada. That is, 75 percent for the United States, and 12.5 percent each for the two other partners. In fact, Trump loved and congratulated organizers for such a feat, which both Canada and Mexico oppose to have in real trade.
There is a catch to the apparent imbalance in percentages. First, Mexico and Canada have long been soccer nations. The United States, until recently, was not. In fact, U.S. organizations like the NFL long opposed the development of soccer, perhaps fearing competition. Their fear was unwarranted, but suppressing soccer fever, particularly on television, led the United States to be deficient in the game.
It still is and FIFA know this. But it is using Mexico’s savy in the sport and looking for a future way to organize stronger soccer leagues in each of the nations. The United States has yet to produce great soccer players and teams, and indeed the 2026 World Cup will give it a great shove in the right direction. And the income will be hefty since this tourney is expected to rake in $14 billion in profits.
As for Mexico, this will be the third time in history it will host a World Cup with the first two having been in 1970 and 1986. For the third Cup, the old Aztec Stadium will be again the site of the inauguration.
As for the governments of the three nations, Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Trump, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, celebrated the announcement. Incidentally, they for a change made good on the meaning of the word soccer, which is a derivative of “association.”
But for now, the ball is rolling in Russia and Mexico, a soccer nation, is watching closely. Closer, indeed, than fans are watching the upcoming election.