The FIFA World Cup is an international football/soccer tournament and one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Members of the Federation Internationale de Football Association [FIFA] compete every four years for the title of World Cup Champion. The first FIFA World Cup championship was held in 1930 and follow-up tournaments have been held every four years since, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1946 due to World War II.
The FIFA World Cup is widely considered the most-watched sports event on the planet thanks to record-breaking viewership numbers including more than 3.5 billion viewers—roughly half the world's population—during the 2018 finals tournament. France emerged as the final victor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which took place in Russia. Qatar is scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup from November 21 to December 17, 2022, marking the first time the event has been hosted by a Middle Eastern country. The 2026 tournament will be jointly hosted by Mexico, Canada, and the United States, making Mexico the first three-time host.
FIFA's 211-member roster includes more nations than that of the United Nations (193 countries + two observer states as of 2021) or the International Olympic Committee (206 countries as of 2021). This is due to the fact that FIFA's definition of nationhood is slightly more flexible. For example, the United Nations treats the U.K. as a single country, but FIFA divides it into four "national" teams: Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Similarly, territories such as Puerto Rico and Gibraltar may be not be considered full countries by the United Nations, but they are full members of FIFA. Any FIFA member is allowed to apply to host the FIFA World Cup, though smaller or less developed countries may find the criteria quite challenging to meet.
Qualifying for the FIFA World Cup finals tournament is a significant accomplishment in and of itself thanks to the sheer size of the competition. The initial field for the 2022 FIFA World Cup included 211 teams—one for each member country—which will be narrowed down to 32 over three years' worth of qualifying matches (which started in June 2019) by the time the final tournament begins. The 2022 tournament, however, will be the last one to include 32 finalists, as FIFA has announced the finals will expand to include 48 teams in time for the 2026 tournament.
FIFA's process for choosing host countries has evolved considerably over time. Initially, the process of selecting a host country proved controversial because of the inefficiency of international travel. Few European teams made it to the inaugural FIFA World Cup in Uruguay (South America), and multiple South American teams withdrew when the next two events were held in Europe. To prevent any impression of favoritism, FIFA began to alternate between the Americas and Europe with each successive event. It continued this policy until 2002, when Japan and South Korea co-hosted Asia's first World Cup finals.
FIFA's selection process has evolved considerably from those early days (as has air travel), making for a much more balanced and trustworthy system. The process starts with each prospective host country submitting a bid to FIFA's Bid Evaluation Task Force many years in advance—for example, bids to host the 2026 World Cup were due by October 15, 2017. The BETF then prepares three reports:
These reports are presented to the FIFA Council, which narrows the bids into a shortlist of candidates, which are then voted upon by the entire FIFA congress, which includes representatives from all 211 FIFA member associations. Every step of the process is fully transparent and publicly available, from the initial reports to each member's final vote.
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The countries that have hosted the FIFA World Cup are as follows: Argentina, England, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United States, South Africa, Uruguay, Spain, South Korea, Mexico, Qatar, and Switzerland.
The United States, Mexico, and Canada will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.