Morocco, a Plucky Underdog to Host 2026 World Cup

Published March 19th, 2018 - 12:17 GMT
Morocco, which has made four failed World Cup bids, would need to invest in significant construction costs.
Morocco, which has made four failed World Cup bids, would need to invest in significant construction costs.

Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup is gaining traction less than three months before football’s governing body is to vote on the location.

The North African country faces strong competition from the United States, Mexico and Canada, whose unified bid to host the tournament is seen to have the upper hand.

Both sides formally submitted their applications on March 16. If each of their bids is cleared by a FIFA task force, football representatives will vote between them on June 13.

The US-Mexico-Canada bid is seen by many as a natural choice. The countries’ infrastructure and commercial capabilities are stronger than Morocco’s and there is simply more money to be made in North America.

Morocco, which has made four failed World Cup bids, would need to invest in significant construction costs — $880 million-$1.1 billion, officials said — and has been slow to lay out a clear blueprint.

The New York Times reported in January that Morocco had only just selected a chairman of its bid committee and had no clear promotional strategy. The Washington Post reported that “Morocco’s bid has been cloaked in secrecy: the international communications team declined to send the Associated Press a copy of the media pack being distributed domestically.”

Still, Moroccan authorities insist their prospects are good and that they have a lot to offer the international football federation.

“We are not here for a communications stunt. We are here to win,” Hicham el-Amrani, chief executive of Morocco’s 2026 bid, told BBC Sport. “You cannot bid for such a tournament, especially one that’s been increased to 48 teams, without careful consideration. It is not a light decision.”

Sports experts agree that Morocco’s candidacy should be taken seriously. They point to the country’s strategic location near Europe, North Africa and the Middle East — meaning a more convenient time zone for many viewers and less travel time for players — and a recent rule change that opens the voting process to all 211 FIFA federation members.

If Morocco can win over enough members — and it already has a solid hold on Africa’s 54 members — the FIFA World Cup could well be in Africa for the second time. South Africa was the site of the 2010 tournament.

Morocco has received support from former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who said that joint bids such as the United States’, Canada’s and Mexico’s are a “nightmare.”

“If Morocco is able to organise this World Cup with 48 teams, then it must be chosen,” Blatter said.

If successful, Morocco would be the second consecutive Arab country to host the event, after Qatar in 2022. This would go a long way in a largely untapped region with many football fans.

“We want to celebrate the world and receive people in our country, showcase the beauty of our country, its diversity and boost the social, economic and human development of our country and the continent,” Amrani said to BBC Sport.

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