Trump, Reagan, and Their Soccer Legacies…So Far

Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, both Republicans, ran on the same slogan—Make America Great Again. Reagan evolved into a centrist due to the Democrat majority in Congress. Both election victories and campaigns grew out of distrust with the Democratic presidents before them and the government’s overreach, lies, and secrets kept from the American people. They pledged to end the plight of the average citizen who felt the government failed to meet their needs in addition to an imaginary decline of their rights when minorities gained civil rights and the movement away from white America. Yet, as of this moment, their legacies in American soccer history remain distinctly different.

In my master’s thesis, “Americanizing the Beautiful Game: The Rise of Mainstream Soccer in the United States, 1960-2005,” I devoted an entire chapter to how the United States gained the bid to host the 1994 World Cup, which included public, influential support from former president Ronald Reagan in 1988. He also pledged support for the 1986 World Cup bid when US Soccer attempted to bring it to the United States after Columbia failed to hold up FIFA’s requirements. Reagan, who knew nothing about soccer, understood the broader cultural and political implications and evolved into one of the main reasons for FIFA awarding the ’94 World Cup to the US; however, until my thesis, scholars glossed over his role. Reagan showed his support with personal letters to Joao Havelange, invitations to wine and dine at the White House, and a short video recording to be shown during US Soccer’s bid presentation. With Reagan’s support, each Federal agency agreed to fully implement policies, especially regarding transportation, housing, and international travel.

Reagan led the conservative movement after Barry Goldwater left its forefront, and he started the “Reagan Revolution.” Yet, his policies never featured the same xenophobia demonstrated by Trump, Steve Bannon, and the rest of the administration with their Muslim Ban.

Over the past two months, FIFA and UEFA both released comments about how the ban might preclude the United States from hosting a World Cup because Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen all compete to qualify for the tournament. The ban would prevent the players, coaching staff, journalists, fans, and more from attending a US-hosted World Cup. Already Justin Meram, an Iraqi international player in MLS, has turned down a national team call-up for a game in Iran. In February, a Muslim player turned down a DP-contract with an MLS team due to his concerns about the safety for Muslims in the United States.

This situation brings up a financial question. How much will the ban cost US Soccer and possibly the federal government? If Trump keeps the ban, the only foreseeable way for the US to win the bid would be through bribery or Trump enforces a temporary suspension of the ban. Should he win reelection, the forty-sixth president would be inaugurated mere months before the 2026 World Cup should begin. Bribery worked for Qatar and Russia regardless of their human rights violations. Yet, a bribe from US Soccer would demonstrate enormous hypocrisy since the FBI investigated FIFA for corruption in 2015.

Donald Trump, like most other Republican politicians, idolizes Ronald Reagan. He likely compares himself to the former president, but Reagan understood politics and held elected office before his presidential election. Trump wants to “Make America Great Again,” but so far he has damaged the country and apparently will continue to do so. Hosting the 2026 World Cup will not fulfill his campaign promise nor will not hosting it; but, Trump’s immigration ban shows the broad impact of politics, even on sport.

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