World Cup 2026: Morocco bid handed last minute boost

Four US territories expected to abstain from voting on Wednesday aiding African bid

Morocco’s name is displayed on stage during the draw for the 2018 World Cup. The nation have bid to host the 2026 tournament. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/Afp/Getty

Morocco’s name is displayed on stage during the draw for the 2018 World Cup. The nation have bid to host the 2026 tournament. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/Afp/Getty

 

The race to host the 2026 World Cup finals was too close to call, according to Fifa insiders, as Morocco received a late boost to their hopes with the expectation that four US territories will abstain from voting on Wednesday.

The so-called united bid of the USA, Mexico and Canada is the technically safer option and definitely more attractive financially to the voting federations but that may not be enough to carry them over the line. Their position was weakened by the expectation that four US territories at the centre of a voting row will not take part.

Morocco has been pressing Fifa for several weeks to intervene and exclude the US-governed territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands because of a perceived conflict of interest.

This is the first World Cup vote since England endured a shock defeat in the contest to host the 2018 finals when Russia and Qatar were picked to host consecutive tournaments despite being vastly weaker on paper.

The subsequent revelations of widespread corruption within the world governing body mean the landscape is very different this time, including the fact that it will be an open vote.

It is expected that 201 of Fifa’s 211 member federations will vote at the annual congress at Moscow’s Expocentre on Wednesday. The four bidding nations are excluded and Ghana and Kosovo are understood not to have sent representatives.

The Fifa heirarchy – including the president, Gianni Infantino – are understood to prefer the united bid, which has promised to generate a profit of £8.1bn for Fifa compared with the projected £4.48bn the Morocco World Cup would raise. But there are other geopolitical and football factors to consider.

Some of those close to the united bid were concerned that interventions by Donald Trump during the campaign period may have worked against them. In April, he tweeted: “The US has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the US bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

There were suggestions that his antagonistic manner could alienate some nations and also that the recent public dispute with Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, could undermine the collaboration between two of the hosting nations.

However, it emerged that behind the scenes Trump has been lobbying on behalf of the bid. He sent three letters to Infantino and other Fifa officials offering reassurances should the united bid win. Trump pledged that his hardline stance on visas would not affect visitors to the country during the tournament. The letters, seen by the New York Times, also cite the 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games and the 1994 World Cup as examples of major international events hosted by the US.

But Morocco’s bid team were confident they could sway a few nations who might be undecided, continuing their lobbying night in Moscow hotels and bars. They will also have a 15-minute presentation to congress on Wednesday morning to make a last-ditch plea for votes.

(Guardian service)

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