ZURICH - Before even agreeing on a kickoff date for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA has begun the search for a host in 2026.
FIFA put expected bidders Canada, Mexico and the United States on notice Friday by setting May 2017 as a target to elect the host of a tournament which follows 32 years after the U.S. staged the event.
"Thirty-two years is a long time," Jeffrey Webb, the president of the North American region, told The Associated Press. "I believe it is CONCACAF's time."
The timetable was approved by the FIFA executive committee a day after the same group decided the final in 2022 will be played on Dec. 18 — Qatar's national day. Though FIFA wants a 28-day tournament in the Gulf emirate's cooler months, a decision on opening day in 2022 was left undone.
Still, with Qatar's controversial hosting finally being accepted as inevitable, FIFA's focus quickly turned to where its lucrative World Cup circus will go next.
"We think it should be played in June-July 2026," said FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, referring to the furor at breaking World Cup tradition to play at the end of the year in Qatar.
Valcke also promised rigorous scrutiny of bidders after a slew of allegations implicated candidates in the 2018-2022 contest.
"These regulations will reach the level of transparency from the first minute of the process to the decision," FIFA's top administrator said.
The process should begin several days after bid regulations are approved on May 30. FIFA's 209 member federations will choose the host at their 2017 congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
New election rules should rule out European countries, after Russia will host in 2018. Asia also cannot have back-to-back tournaments.
"Really, the only (other) countries with legitimate claims would be African countries," Webb told the AP in a telephone interview.
"The world knows that the U.S. can host in one year's time," said the FIFA vice-president, who is from the Cayman Islands. "And we have seen the reports that (Canada and Mexico) are very much interested."
CONCACAF has more interest in the special May 30 session of the FIFA executive committee, with new members and a president — likely Sepp Blatter starting a fifth term — elected the previous day.
The meeting should agree on qualifying quotas for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups with each of FIFA's six continental bodies likely pitching for more slots.
In Brazil last year, CONCACAF made a case for more guaranteed places as Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States advanced from their groups. Asia's four teams failed to win a match in Brazil.
The World Cup's global popularity and commercial power was made clear Friday when FIFA published its annual financial report, and summarized a four-year cycle of deals tied to the 2014 tournament.
FIFA revenue topped $2 billion last year, with $337 million in total profits from 2011-14. In 2014, FIFA added $91 million to its reserves, which now stand at $1.523 billion.
The healthy picture let FIFA extend a working agreement with the 214-member European Club Association, which was a fierce critic of the switched playing dates in Qatar.
Clubs worldwide will share $209 million for releasing players to the 2018 World Cup, and the same again in 2022. They received only $70 million from 2014 revenues.
Underlining the Gulf's growing influence, FIFA also sent more tournaments to the region on Friday.
The United Arab Emirates was chosen to host the Club World Cup, usually held in December, in 2017 and 2018. The UAE previously hosted in 2009 and 2010.