London, April 9, 2018 - FIFA on Monday kicks off the visits by its increasingly controversial evaluation task force to the two rival bidders contesting host rights to the 2026 World Cup finals.
FIFA Congress is scheduled to vote between Morocco and a co-hosting proposal from the United States with subsidiaries Canada and Mexico on June 13 in Moscow, on the eve of the Opening Match for the 2018 finals.
The five-man panel has been criticised from within African football as comprising effective appointees by FIFA president Gianni Infantino who has been the subject of speculation that he would privately prefer the award to go to central/north America.
The quintet are joint deputy secretary-generals Marco Villiger and Zvonimir Boban, audit chair Tomaz Vesel (Slovenia), governance chair Mukul Mudgal (India) and competitions committee delegate Ilco Gjorgioski (Macedonia).
Their modus operandi and powers were the subject of a rare bust-up in the FIFA Council last month in Bogota.
A statement from the world governing body has notified both bids that the taskforce will run the rule over the United 2026 bid and then fly on to Morocco, with dates as follows:
United 2026 -- Monday-Tuesday (April 9-10) Mexico City; Tuesday-Wednesday (April 10-11) Atlanta; Wednesday-Thursday (April 11-12) Toronto; and Thursday-Friday (April 12-13) New York/New Jersey.
Morocco 2026 — April 16-17 Marrakech; April 17-18 Agadir; April 18-19 Tanger; and April 19 Casablanca.
FIFA said: “The main objective of the trips, which will comprise visits to specific locations as well as working meetings with the bid committees, will be to clarify certain technical aspects contained in the respective bid books.
“The visits to the member associations represent only one part of the overall assessment process implemented by the 2026 bid evaluation task force
“FIFA will publish additional information, including the evaluation reports, upon conclusion of the evaluation process by the task force.
“Following the assessment by the task force – and provided the FIFA Council submits a designation – the decision on whether to select one of the above bidders to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup™ will be taken by the 68th FIFA Congress, which will convene in Moscow on 13 June.”
The key word in the statement is “provided” since the greatest concern for Morocco 2026 is passing muster with the taskforce which will award marks on a scale of 0 to five across a range of nine infrastructural and revenue-related criteria.
This concerns the Moroccans since all of their stadia proposals – in sharp contrast to United 2026 – depend on architects’ projections, even for the five existing venues which need major redevelopment.
In terms of projected ticketing revenues and live attendances Morocco comes in far below United proposals but the north Africans counter by pointing to the country’s “television sweet spot” in terms of prime time convenience for FIFA’s lucrative European constituency.
FIFA Council is expected to approve whatever the task force proposes, thus bequeathing the ultimate decision to congress. Even here uncertainty reigns because the vote is open and federations which fear upsetting one side or the other also have the option of a registered abstention.