Iñigo Riestra – Mexico Football Federation 

Riestra scores for Mexico’s World Cup 

He’s a man constantly in motion. Such was the case when Inigo Riestra Facetimed with Vanguard early one May morning while burning calories on a treadmill at his Mexico City home. A busy day awaited him as the next two years will pass quickly, and he said he needed to make the most of every minute. 

Iñigo Riestra | Chief Legal Officer and General Secretary | Mexico Football Federation

Iñigo Riestra | Chief Legal Officer and General Secretary | Mexico Football Federation

When June 11, 2026, rolls around, Riestra will be at Mexico City’s 83,264-seat Azteca Stadium—cheering his home country’s national soccer—or fútbol–team as it opens the men’s FIFA World Cup. A robust round of applause would seem due to Riestra, who, as the Mexico Football Federation’s chief legal counsel and secretary general, played such a role in bringing the tournament to Mexico with help from its fellow hosts, the United States and Canada.  

As he explains, that took some doing, much collaboration with his counterparts to the north, and Henry Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy before the FIFA Congress convened in Moscow in 2018 to award the games to North America by a 134-65 vote. According to Riestra, it marked “the first and only responsible campaign” in World Cup history, as none of the three countries relied on public funds to sweeten their collective bid and how the return on private investment should include intangibles. 

“It will help us spark the appetite for soccer in new generations,” he says. “It is an opportunity for little Mexicans to experience the atmosphere of what a World Cup represents: to have the best players on the planet close to their homes and to participate in fan fests.” 

Rounding out the team 

The effort kicked off with Riestra’s involvement in the first negotiations in 2015 and, one year later, the collaboration with his U.S. and Canadian counterparts. What a whirlwind followed, with much passport-stamping. 

International dynamics are not quite as acrimonious as today’s; the bidding team set up an office in London and lived there when not globe-trotting. Fourteen countries in 12 days, he recalls, and Mexico was perceived as an underdog even though it had previously hosted two World Cups, with Pele’s Brazil prevailing in 1970 and Diego Maradona’s Argentina taking home the glory in 1986. 

Iñigo Riestra | Chief Legal Officer and General Secretary | Mexico Football Federation

But as is the case in sports, yesterday’s achievements alone won’t cut it, and Mexico probably couldn’t have secured the tournament on its own. Being teammates with Canada and the U.S. made sense, and that had Riestra putting on his game face. 

“Our responsibility was to document and create the society that would allow having a legal vehicle among the three countries so they could contribute resources in a clear, managed and transparent manner,” he says. “We created a legal scheme that allowed us to interact with federal, state and municipal governments, and all under FIFA regulations.” 

Game on 

So Mexico’s got game, with 13 matches—including 10 in the group stage—scheduled for Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Toronto and Vancouver host the Canadian games, while balls will be booted around 11 U.S. metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle—with the championship scheduled for July 19, 2026, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. 

According to Riestra, every locale will come out a winner, what with the World Cup’s economic impact estimated between $11 billion and billion and $14 billion and there being possibilities for future endeavors among the three nations. And he’s already looking beyond the games. 

The Mexican Football Federation, which governs and promotes the game in Mexico, needs tweaking, which has Riestra and his legal team, analyzing regulations and trying to better align a player’s progress as he goes from amateur to professional. Soccer being to Mexico, what hockey is to Canada, and baseball to the U.S., Riestra says national pride and identity are at stake. 

Iñigo Riestra | Chief Legal Officer and General Secretary | Mexico Football Federation 

“We are in a historic moment for Mexican soccer,” he says. “Our clubs have improved in what they demand and require, and we have to be responsible with what the clubs invest to have better players and stadiums. The federation must give them an appropriate legal framework.” 

The federation also wants to bring the women’s World Cup to Mexico for 2031—Riestra says enhancing the women’s game is a priority, and the federation’s plans include launching a Summer Cup with the United States.  

“We have little girls who have unbelievably good players,” he says. “They deserve their place in the soccer world.” 

Two of those little girls might be Riestra’s 6- and 3-year-old daughters. The older one has started playing and, at least according to her dad, shows passion and potential. 

“We have to celebrate any child in sports,” he says. “When kids become players, they become fans and grow the sport.” 

Finding his own field 

Time was when Riestra might have envisioned himself as a pro. As is typical with Mexican kids, he took to the game early and was a pretty fair midfielder for a semipro team, but reckoned he’d go further in law. 

It’s worked out well, especially with Riestra combining law with soccer and being at the forefront of bringing the most celebrated tournament to his homeland. But this mix was years in the making, the younger Riestra commencing his career as a tax lawyer with a boutique firm. Afterward came work for a company listed on the Mexican and New York exchanges, which had Riestra networking with U.S. law firms. 

Iñigo Riestra | Chief Legal Officer and General Secretary | Mexico Football Federation 

Finally, in 2013, the federation offered Riestra the position of head of international affairs to promote better relations with FIFA and its North and Central American division, CONCACAF. Four years later, he was promoted to deputy general secretary and ascended to his present role last year. 

While Riestra says he’s past his prime as a soccer player, he still plays recreationally and enjoys golf, paddle tennis and daily runs such as the one he combined while talking with Vanguard. He has to squeeze in the playtime whenever available, as the workload only increases as the World Cup nears. He’s still got sponsorships to pursue, relationships to nurture, risks to mitigate, the women’s 2031 games to lobby for and be ready for whatever happens in the world of sports. 

“In five years, this will be one of the five most important federations of the world,” he says, “and I want to still be here.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: June 13, 2024


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