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Armour: World Cup Gives USA a Chance to Show Its Best Self

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Delegates of Canada, Mexico and the United States celebrate after winning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup at the FIFA congress in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Photo: AP / Pavel Golovkin

By Nancy Armour |

The United States is going to need every minute of the next eight years to get ready for its turn as the world’s host.

Not to build stadiums or hotels, or even add the infrastructure required to support the 2026 World Cup and the millions of guests it will bring. The United States has all that, so much so that it could host the tournament next year if need be.

No, what this country needs is manners and civility, particularly when it comes to people from outside our borders. Given the current climate, reminding Americans how to roll out the welcome mat might be the biggest challenge – and the biggest benefit – for the U.S. organizers in the United Bid.

What makes the United States unique is that we are, at heart, a country of misfits. With the exception of Native Americans, we all came from somewhere else. Many of our ancestors were poor and uneducated when they arrived, lured by the hope of a better life in the United States – or at least a fairer shake than what they’d get in the country they just left.

Some fled war and persecution. Others, shamefully, were brought here against their will. But together, this patchwork of people from different countries and cultures, different traditions and experiences, has made the United States exceptional.

We seem to have forgotten that, however. Our government now treats immigrants and refugees as if they are less than human, conveniently ignoring the fact that many of our ancestors were once viewed with that same kind of disdain and contempt. People who look or sound different are the object of hate and, sometimes, violence, as if our relatives didn’t once have to assimilate as well.

Not all of us are so small-minded and rude. But enough to be embarrassing.

The World Cup, and the Summer Olympics In Los Angeles two years later, is a great chance to remind Americans that there is a vast world outside our border. That despite outward appearances, we are more alike than different. That welcoming strangers is not only the right and charitable thing to do, it’s the most American thing to do.

In making the case for the United Bid to the FIFA Congress in Moscow, U.S. Under-20 soccer player Brianna Pinto told the story of playing Iran in a youth tournament last fall. On the field, the Americans and Iranians were fiercely competitive, Pinto said.

Off of it, they ate meals together and bonded over their common love of soccer.

“We may come from different countries and cultures,” Pinto said Wednesday, “but deep down we’re all pretty much the same.”

It’s fitting that the United States teamed up with Mexico and Canada to bring the world’s largest sporting event back to North America. The United States could have gone it alone as it did in 1994, the last time it hosted the men’s tournament, and 1999 and 2003, when it hosted the women’s tournaments.

But organizers recognized the bid would be stronger if they worked with Canada and Mexico, embracing its neighbors and the spirit of cooperation. A whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, and the 2026 World Cup will be better for its inclusivity.

“In a world where the forces of division try to pull us apart, a World Cup in North America will show how football unites us all, as family and friends,” said Decio de Maria, president of the Mexican Football Federation.

Despite the Super Bowl’s blockbuster ratings and the World Series’ overstated name, the World Cup is the most popular sporting event on earth. It’s a spectacle like no other, a wonderful riot of sport and fandemonium, and Americans will be charmed by everything about it – if they let themselves be.

The focus will be on the stadiums and the games, but it is ordinary people who will ultimately determine the success of the 2026 World Cup. It doesn’t take much to be kind or welcoming, and the benefits almost always outweigh the effort.

The world is coming our way. The timing couldn’t be better.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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