The task force first inspected the North American bid, visiting Mexico City, Atlanta, Toronto, and New York during the four-day trip, and looked at training facilities, team base camps, fan fest sites, and stadiums, including Atlanta’s cutting-edge Mercedes Benz Arena. After North America, the task force visited the Moroccan cities of Marrakesh, Tangiers, Agadir, and Casablanca during a 3-day visit.
While the visit to North America seemed to go without a hitch, the visit to Morocco was met with claims by the Moroccan media that FIFA President Gianni Infantino was plotting Morocco’s disqualification. Morocco World News claims that without the United States’ help, Infantino wouldn’t have been elected head of FIFA, and that Infantino had been actively trying to put barriers in the way of Morocco’s dream of hosting the World Cup. Back in 2016 the New York Times reported that Sunil Gulati, then head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, had helped swing the vote Infantino’s way, as he beat Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa to become FIFA president. Bloomberg also reported that FIFA would receive a multi-million dollar windfall bonus from North American broadcasters should United 2026 win the bid to host the World Cup.
According to the Associated Press, Morocco complained that they only received details of the scoring system two days before the deadline to submit bid books, although FIFA says that the hosting requirements haven’t changed. Morocco also expressed unhappiness over some of the criteria, including airport capacity, which they see as excessive.
Moroccan media are also concerned about makeup of the bid evaluation task force. Norwegian soccer website Josimar recently published an article detailing the backgrounds of the task force members and their links to Infantino. When people hear the word ‘task force’, they often assume that the members of it are impartial experts, but according to the article, several members of the CAF, African soccer’s governing body, have voiced concern over the impartiality of the task force members.
The initial reaction to last week's inspection suggests that Morocco needn't have had such worries. The task force’s evaluation of Morocco did question the quality of some of the aspects of the bids, particularly when it comes to hospitality and VIP seats (is anyone surprised that this appears to be FIFA’s biggest concern). Morocco’s bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said that Morocco “still has to improve the quality of our bid book” and that Morocco is “currently negotiating with FIFA to find a solution” to the stadium issue, with FIFA sending experts to the North African country next week to discuss solutions to the matter. Elalamy also said that the members of the task force “expressed their admiration for the quality of Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.”
Despite Morocco’s fears, it would be a shock if the country were eliminated by the task force inspection as the Morocco 2026 bid book looks as strong as some of the previous World Cup hosts and Morocco wasn’t disqualified from bidding for the World Cup in 2010. Given Infantino’s recent comments about the possibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team World Cup in 2020, it would be surprising if FIFA judged that Morocco was incapable of making the step up from a 32-team World Cup in 2010 to a 48-team tournament in 2026. And in previous World Cups such as Qatar 2022, the quality of the bid book seemed to have no influence whatsoever on which country got given the World Cup.
If Morocco isn't disqualified then the race to host the 2026 World Cup is wide open. At the end of the day, for all North America’s marvelous stadiums and infrastructure, the World Cup bid is still about politics, and with countries like France and Russia, along with the bulk of Africa and the Middle East, declaring their support for Morocco 2026, the United 2026 bid will have to hope its schmoozing is as good as its stadiums if it wants to win the right to host the 2026 World Cup.
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