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Morocco Wants to Host the World Cup. Just Don’t Ask for Any Details.

Morocco Wants to Host the World Cup. Just Don’t Ask for Any Details.


Morocco’s rivals across the Atlantic, meanwhile, are months ahead, at least as far as optics are concerned: Their 14-member multinational bid committee and four-person executive team has already trimmed an early list of 41 potential host cities. The three countries long ago determined the number of matches each country will host. That extensive planning and FIFA’s plan to expand the field to 48 teams have the North Americans widely considered as the favorites to secure the event when FIFA gathers to pick the 2026 host on June 13.

Moroccan soccer officials are privately playing down doubts about their bid. They insist they have the resources to host the event. Now that the country’s ruler, King Mohammed VI, has named Moulay Hafid Elalamy, the country’s industry minister, as chairman of the bid, they say the effort soon will have greater visibility.

So far, though, little about the plans has been revealed publicly. The country has failed to use the occasion of the 16-nation African Nations Championship, the last international tournament before FIFA makes its decision, to publicize its World Cup campaign. While airports, buses, trams and sides of buildings have been festooned with branding for the soccer championship that started Saturday in Casablanca, there is nothing to denote Morocco’s desire to bring the World Cup to Africa for only the second time.

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Moroccan fans before a game against Mauritania on Saturday in Casablanca. Morocco has mounted four previous bids for the World Cup, in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010.

Credit
Abdeljalil Bounhar/Associated Press

A spokesman for the Moroccan soccer federation said no one was available to speak because a communications strategy is still being worked out. Morocco recently hired the London-based Vero Communications to help craft its message; Vero helped deliver the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the 2024 Olympics to Paris. (Qatar announced in November that it would back Morocco’s bid.) Vero confirmed it was working with Morocco in a news release last week, but it has said little else.

North America has plenty of built-in advantages, including ready-made stadiums, hotels and infrastructure, as well as promises to break revenue records. Yet, the nature of the vote means Morocco could prove a tougher than expected opponent.

For the first time, FIFA has changed its rules to place the selection of the host nation in the hands of its full membership, a privilege that until now had been reserved for what had been a 24-member executive board. To win those rights, bidders need to convince a majority of the leaders of FIFA’s 211 member federations that they should have it, and Morocco already has started a charm offensive on the people who matter.

Last week, at a board meeting of the Confederation of African Football, one of soccer’s six continental confederations, Morocco made a proposal to underwrite training camps, travel costs and even stadium projects for some of the continent’s 54 FIFA member nations. Artur Almeida e Silva, the president of Angola’s soccer federation, described Morocco’s motivation as altruistic.

“The offer shouldn’t be seen as an exchange of any type,” said Almeida e Silva, who predicted the majority of African nations would back Morocco’s bid.

CAF officials will decide at a meeting next month whether to endorse Morocco as a bloc. CAF’s president, Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar, gave Morocco his personal endorsement Friday, saying it was “legitimate” the tournament return to Africa. “I support them without reservation,” Mr. Ahmad told a news conference.

Organizers from Morocco and North America must submit the technical details of their bids to FIFA in March. FIFA will then distribute a technical evaluation to its member associations. FIFA has reserved the right to reject a bid should its plans not meet new requirements set out in October.

Morocco’s best hope may be an unlikely boost from President Trump. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to sign a travel ban barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including several in Africa, from entering the United States. He recently ignited new controversies when he was said to have disparaged immigrants from Nigeria and other poor countries.

“In Africa there’s solidarity,” said Hassan Waberi, the president of the Comoros soccer federation. “So we feel insulted and not happy. Of course it’s not good for the Americans.”

Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of Ghana’s soccer federation and the first vice-president at CAF, said he was convinced Morocco’s bid could cause a surprise. “When you have just two bidders, it’s 50-50,” he said, “and Africa will be behind Morocco.”

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Morocco is currently hosting the African Nations Championship, the last major international tournament before FIFA selects the 2026 World Cup host in June, but it has done little to promote its World Cup ambitions at the event.

Credit
Abdeljalil Bounhar/Associated Press

But the 14 members of the FIFA confederation in Oceania have pledged their support to the North Americans. And Moroccan officials privately fumed when, in December, FIFA President Gianni Infantino appeared to give his backing to the American-led bid.

“Joint biddings are certainly positive,” Infantino said at a conference in Dubai. “And let me say one more thing, to have Canada, U.S. and Mexico coming together for a joint project, already this is a positive message.”

Morocco’s plan for the World Cup will include the construction of several new stadiums that can be reduced in size after the tournament, according to an official with direct knowledge of the bid. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said matches would be held in as many as 15 cities, and that the compact size of the country relative to its rival bidders also would be promoted.

Moroccan officials acknowledge that their bid cannot compete with the ticketing and hospitality projections of a North American World Cup, but they plan to stress to FIFA that their country is better situated to deliver more prime-time matches in Europe than one in the United States — a reality they suggest could drive up the value of television broadcast rights in more markets.

And while another World Cup in North America would be a monumental event, setting attendance and revenue records, soccer is a national passion in Morocco. On any day, in any city in this North African country of 35 million, the sound and sight of children kicking soccer balls is omnipresent — on the sprawling campus of the imposing Hassan II Mosque, even at the gates that signal the entry to the city’s 19th century market.

Taking a break from guiding cars to parking spaces outside the mosque last week, Mehdi Kadruf, 34, watched a group of teenagers playing a pickup game close to the mosque’s main entrance. He recalled the pain of his country’s previous failed bids, and said that none of the attempts — in a process long clouded by accusations of bribery and corruption, including by Morocco — had hurt as much as the loss of the 2010 tournament to a continental rival, South Africa, which had the backing of the former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter.

Morocco lost out that time in a race that American prosecutors say (and South African officials deny) was won in part because of a $10 million payment to the former Concacaf president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago. Investigators later accused Morocco of paying a smaller bribe to the same official.

“Normally that would have been for us to host,” Kadruf said, “but what happened was that South Africa paid for it.”





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