Allegations of corruption marred the 2022 World Cup bid four years ago. However, this week, there was a new, slightly tolerable elephant in the room as delegates walked through the doors of the five-star Crowne Plazza hotel in Moscow to decide the host of the 2026 showpiece. Political, rather than football allegiances appear to have won the day in Moscow, writes MQONDISI DUBE
Morocco was the biblical David facing a Goliath the moment the two 2026 World Cup bids went through. The North Africans have been unsuccessful in four previous attempts, including missing out on organising the first World Cup on African soil in 2010.
On Wednesday, Morocco became arguably the ‘biggest loser’ in the history of World Cup bids when they made it a fifth successive defeat. Morocco expectedly suffered a heavy loss to the united North American bid, which had the world’s economic superpower, the United States, Canada and Mexico. Morocco garnered 65 votes against 134 for the joint bid.
It was always an uphill task against countries with advanced economies and infrastructure.
But as Morocco begins the postmortem of another failed bid, the answers might not lie in the might of the US, but with home brewed problems.
The territorial conflict involving the Western Sahara featured prominently in political discussions, which were critical in swaying votes away from the African country.
Western Sahara is under Morocco control, but wants independence and its leader, Brahim Ghali made timeous visits to some Southern African countries, which eventually rejected Morocco.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) played its cards close to its chest as president, Maclean Letshwiti remained non-committal right up to the Crowne Plazza doorstep.
However, his mind might have been made up after meeting President Mokgweetsi Masisi last week Thursday.
The BFA has confirmed Letshwiti and his chief executive officer, Mfolo Mfolo spoke to Masisi about the 2026 bid.
Masisi was fresh from meeting with Ghali, the leader of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, who has been on a tour to drum up support for Western Sahara’s independence with the diplomatic whirlwind coming as the AU plans its summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, beginning June 25.
His charm offensive appears to have paid immediate dividends as all nations he visited, turned their backs on Morocco.
The visits, either by coincidence or not, delivered the sucker punch, even though the votes were not going to make much of a difference for a Morocco nation, which has become used to leaking the wounds from World Cup bid defeats.
The Morocco snub by the 11 African countries, would not have delivered the World Cup to Africa for the second time, but it sent an unambiguous message that the North Africans have to polish up their image before they can be considered part of a larger African agenda.
The messages have been constantly sent out but ignored. In 2006, a Moroccan official stormed out of a room in Berlin when South Africa was announced as the 2010 host.
“Why do you hate Morocco?” the official asked before bursting out of the filled room, with the late Nelson Mandela in attendance.
But if Morocco did not get the message loud and clear in
Besides the Western Sahara dispute, Morocco has, what are seen as, ‘unforgivable sins’.
They dumped the then Organisation of African Union (OAU) instead, preferring to join the Arab League. Morocco was only re-admitted into the revamped OAU, now the African Union (AU) last year and would be on the firing line straight away regarding the Western Sahara question when nations converge in Mauritania in 10 days time.
The AU initial snub might have been an entirely ‘political sin’ which the football world might have missed, but the straw that broke the ‘football camel’s back was in 2014 when the North Africans refused to host the Africa Cup of Nations citing Ebola fears.
They withdrew at the last minute, leaving CAF to scramble for a new host. This meant Morocco had failed to polish and dovetail its image with the rest of Africa.
When Rabat officials’ bid for the 2026 World Cup was accepted, they discovered they had to traverse Africa canvassing for votes.
For effort, Morocco cannot be faulted as they flew all over the continent, including touching down at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport last month, cap in hand, begging for votes.
They presented their bid book to the BFA and later to the COSAFA region, but that was in vain.
In terms of percentages, Morocco fared well overall in Africa, with about 79% of the associations backing their bid.
However, compared to South Africa in 2010, Morocco’s bid divided a continent. South Africa were overwhelming favourites, and their campaign was anchored on an ‘African’ rather than a ‘South African’ World Cup, which resonated well with the rest of the continent.
While Morocco has emerged severely bruised from each bidding battle, they have stubbornly refused to throw in the towel, and have already indicated they will return to try their luck for the 2030 World Cup. Morocco might have been an unpopular choice for Africa, but on the flip side, abrasive American President, Donald Trump’s ‘threats’ might have driven some countries into voting for the united bid.
“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)?” he tweeted in April.
Although FIFA warned against ‘undue political influence’ by governments, Trump tweeted again, urging African countries and others throughout the world to support the US bid. “We will be watching very closely.”
Maybe, just maybe, everything had nothing to do with Morocco’s lacklustre appeal, but everything to do with the political power and the economic might of the USA.
Again, a US World Cup is financially appealing compared to hosting it in little known Morocco.