Morocco’s loss in 2026 World Cup bid highlights Arab divide

Morocco wasn’t able to get full support from Africa and the Arab world.
Thursday 14/06/2018
Presentation of the Morocco 2026 bid during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13. (AFP)
Presentation of the Morocco 2026 bid during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Moroccans took to social media to express anger at other Arab countries for voting against Rabat’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, once again highlighting an Arab split on supporting the North African nation.

FIFA voters overwhelmingly — 134-65 — chose North America to host the 2026 World Cup, going with the financial and logistical capabilities of a strong joint bid by the United States, Mexico and Canada over an ambitious Moroccan proposal.

Morocco wasn’t able to get full support from Africa and the Arab world — 11 African and seven Arab federations voted for the North American bid. That Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates supported the US-led bid, Moroccans were in a state of shock and betrayal.

“Algeria, Morocco’s arch-rival, voted in favour of #Morocco2026 whereas Saudi Arabia, a country Moroccan soldiers die for in Yemen, voted for the US bid. Let that sink in,” tweeted Amerruki.

Saudi Lobbying

The vote is the latest example of divisions in the Arab world over regional disputes, including the Gulf crisis.

Chairman of the General Sport Authority of the Saudi Olympic Committee Turki al-Sheikh told Bloomberg News prior to the vote that Saudi Arabia would not support Morocco’s bid to host the World Cup because the Americas had asked for support first.

“America is our ally and sought our help in 2017 and we will not disappoint it, even at the expense of Morocco,” he said.

Sheikh sparked outrage in Morocco in May when he said on CNN that Saudi Arabia’s vote would likely go to its “strongest” ally, a reference to the United States.

Saudi Arabia used its financial resources and spiritual authority to lobby Muslim countries to vote for the North American bid, the International Policy Digest said.

The New York Times reported two weeks ago that the North American effort had found a powerful surrogate in Saudi Arabia, which helped arrange meetings with Asian voters to lobby dozens of votes from Asia’s football confederation.

Adnan Hmidan, presenter of the “Arra’iye Al Horr” programme on Al Hiwar TV, asked whether ties among Arab countries were only based on benefits and whether Arabs had lost their principles.

Moroccans vented their anger on Facebook against Saudi Arabia, vowing to support all the teams playing against the Saudis in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Host Russia defeated Saudi Arabia 5-0 June 14 in the tournament’s opening game.

Some even urged Rabat to severe its diplomatic ties with Riyadh and boycott pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

Moroccan media criticised the Saudi vote, warning that Riyadh’s action would not go unnoticed by Moroccans. “The Saudi attitude, seen in Morocco as backstabbing, may leave lasting marks as seen in the overwhelming majority of comments on social networks,” reported Moroccan news website Medias24.

Lack of infrastructure

Confederation of African Football President Ahmad Ahmad admitted to Morocco’s national television channel that the North America bid was “strong” and called on Africans to show unity.

Morocco’s lack of infrastructure was one of the main hurdles against its bid. The country would need to spend billions of dollars building or renovating 14 stadiums for a 48-team tournament as part of a $16 billion investment. Canada, Mexico and the United States have almost all the needed infrastructure in place.

FIFA’s inspection reports specified stadiums, hotels and transport as the three “high-risk” elements to Morocco’s bid.

Morocco also fared poorly when FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura summarised the review task force’s verdict, reminding delegates of Morocco’s lack of infrastructure and the North American bid’s ability to generate $14 billion in revenue compared to Morocco’s $5 billion.

After the FIFA vote, Faouzi Lekjaa, president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, said Morocco was proud to have submitted a strong nomination file, of which football “is the main axis.”

Morocco’s bid committee said the country was ready to “continue its path and achieve the projects presented in the application.”