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Morocco narrows gap but US, Canada and Mexico still 2026 World Cup favourites

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is believed to favour the proposal from the United States with junior partners Canada and Mexico because of its all-round financial superiority. (Photo: Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

MOSCOW, June 12, 2018 - The shortest World Cup bidding race for years is heading for a shootout finish in the annual FIFA Congress here with United 2026 still the favourite ahead of Morocco.

As leaders of the two bids raced around the pre-congress conferences of the regional confederations there were no hints of a late groundswell to suggest that the north African outsiders could pull off a shock success to rock the presidency of Gianni Infantino.

The Swiss-Italian is believed to favour the proposal from the United States with junior partners Canada and Mexico because of its all-round financial superiority from ticketing revenue to hospitality income to sponsorship allure.

The stark contrast between the two competing bids was set out by their presentations last month to the annual congress of international sports journalists’ association AIPS in Brussels.

United stated its commercial credentials by projecting that the North American bid would bring in a record $11bn profit to FIFA’s coffers while Morocco promoted a contrasting concept of a need for the world game to be seen encouraging emerging countries.

Questions have been posed about the varying figures emanating from United 2026 over the past month as the campaigns focused on the run-in to congress but these have been issues of projected detail not significant difference.

Morocco hopes for a strong voting showing from European federation UEFA whose delegates were urged here to vote a second World Cup to Africa – after South Africa in 2010 – by French federation president Noel Le Graet. His words are likely to find favour with Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and a number of other Mediterranean nations.

Russia is also expected to use its regional influence to support Morocco not so much out of empathy but out of antagonism to the relentless focus of US and World Anti-Doping Agency campaigners over the cover-up scandal which aroused massive ructions in the Olympic sphere.

They also, by the way, cost now-Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko his all-powerful role as Sports Minister plus senior FIFA and UEFA executive member.

Morocco hopes to pick up a handful of votes in the Americans’ Caribbean back yard as well as mass backing from Africa and significant support from the Chinese and Arab worlds.

However, the increasingly influential Saudi Arabia has declared for United. Other Gulf neighbours may take their cue from Riyadh, especially with the newly-empowered Crown Prince having flown in on the eve of the vote to assess the action and the actors.

Morocco hopes US territories such as Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will be barred from voting. Against that, it could leak leak up to 10 African votes in southern Africa. The ominous tweeted rumblings of US President Donald Trump have not gone unnoticed by the nervous political leaders who call their federations’ voting shots.

FIFA rebuilt the bidding process after the scandals surrounding the awards by the old executive committee in 2010 to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. Now, for the first time since 1966, the full congress will vote on bids analysed by the task force and approved by the 36-strong FIFA Council.

For the first time at all individual voting will be laid open to public scrutiny with the choice between Morocco, United and an abstentionist “none of the above.”

The Moroccans have put up a strong fight, considering the award was supposed to be such a shoe-in for the US and its allies that the process was rushed forward. The sudden fifth-attempt pursuit by Morocco meant both bids had only around four months to prepare their formal bid books.

For all that, and despite the shock example of Qatar’s 2022 success the last time FIFA had a choice, it will still be a major upset if Morocco steal the show.

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