Morocco’s Cup dream shattered by strong North America bid
MOSCOW - The United States, Mexico and Canada won the right to host the 2026 World Cup after easily beating Morocco in a vote by FIFA member nations on Wednesday.
The joint North American bid received 134 of the 203 votes, while Morocco polled 65 in the ballot at a FIFA Congress held in Moscow on the eve of the 2018 World Cup.
Global football's showpiece event will return to the North American continent for the first time since 1994 when the United States hosted the tournament.
Bid leader Carlos Cordeiro said his team was "humbled by the trust our colleagues in the FIFA family have put in our bid" and his tournament had an opportunity to put football "on a new and sustainable path for generations to come."
It will be the first World Cup to be expanded to 48 teams, posing an enormous logistical challenge for the hosts.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was believed to have strongly backed the North American bid behind the scenes because the trio of countries involved backed him in 2016 when he took over after the corruption-tainted reign of Sepp Blatter.
- Clear choice -
Delegates had been faced with a clear choice in the 2026 vote.
The joint North American bid boasted modern, established stadiums and well-developed transport links underpinned by Mexican football fervour.
Morocco, on the other hand, promised a "European" World Cup in Africa, playing on its proximity to Europe and an appeal to take the tournament back to the African continent for just the second time.
But compared to North America, Morocco's bid existed largely on paper -- many stadiums and roads would have had to have been built and critics questioned how it would have coped with expanded tournament.
FIFA inspectors classified the north African nation's stadiums, accommodation and transport as "high risk", awarding it just 2.7 out of five in an evaluation report, with concerns raised over several critical aspects.
They warned "the amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated".
The report made the US-Canada-Mexico bid the clear favourite after rating it four out of five, and Morocco was not able to bridge the gap.
The 1994 World Cup in the United States set an attendance record that still stands, with nearly 3.6 million spectators for only 52 matches.
- $11 billion profit pledge -
That suggests that North American bid leaders' promises to deliver a record $11 billion profit for the 2026 tournament are feasible.
The North American bid had feared it could lose out if the FIFA vote became a referendum on the popularity of US President Donald Trump.
Trump had tweeted threats that if countries did not support the North American bid, they could not expect US support on other issues.
That prompted Cordeiro to urge FIFA members ahead of the vote to make their decision on the "merits" of the bid, "not geopolitics".
The decision will be a shot in the arm for football, or soccer, in the US, after the national team failed to qualify for the 2018 finals in a huge setback for the game there.
Football-crazy Mexico hosted in 1970 and in 1986, the tournament remembered for Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal.
The vote result was a bitter blow for Morocco after a fifth failure to win the right to host the World Cup. In 2010 it lost out to South Africa as the African continent hosted for the first time.
The US was defeated by Qatar in 2022 in a vote now tarnished by corruption allegations that spelled the beginning of the end of the once all-powerful FIFA president Blatter.
It prompted an overhaul of the rules. Whereas previously the 24 members of the FIFA Executive Committee used to determine World Cup races, the host is now decided by a vote of individual FIFA member nations.
Morocco bid leader Hicham El Amrani argued its 12 host cities are "very close to each other, with for example Casablanca a maximum 500 kilometres (310 miles) from another venue" compared to the vast distances involved in North America.
The Moroccan bid had enlisted the support of the British communications agency that helped London and Paris land the 2012 and 2024 Olympics.
France, in particular, lobbied behind the scenes for French-speaking Morocco and the bid had the support of most African nations.