Moroccans take World Cup charm offensive to COSAFA

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Robson Sharuko

Harare – The Morocco 2026 World Cup bid bandwagon rolled into Southern Africa last weekend with the visiting delegation saying they were just mere messengers of the entire continent who were on a mission to bring football’s greatest festival back to the continent.

Morocco, who lost the battle to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa, are back in their quest to win the rights to host the tournament in eight years’ time but face a tough battle at the hands of the United States, Mexico and Canada who have come up with a joint bid.

The Moroccans know that the African vote will be crucial in their bid to win the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup but getting the continent to push for a united front in such matters has always been difficult, if not impossible, for a number of reasons.

Morocco riled a number of African countries when they pulled out of hosting the 2015 AFCON finals following an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They feared that the thousands of football fans from that part of the continent could bring the virus to their shores.

However, the country has been on a charm offensive in recent months to try and mend the bridges with their counterparts on the continent and have been rolling the red carpet, which has seen them hosting a number of key football indabas related to the continent.

Last Saturday, the Morocco bid leadership was in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they gave a presentation to the COSAFA members trying to woo them to vote for them when the election is done in Russia next month during the FIFA World Cup finals.

The Americans have already presented their plans to the COSAFA members, a key constituency when it comes to voting in African football, given that it is the biggest bloc of nations and, crucially, Southern Africa usually votes as one rather than fragmented members.

Analysts believe that it was the Southern African bloc that helped Sepp Blatter to defeat the then UEFA president Lennart Johansen for the FIFA presidency in Paris, France, in 1998 after the region rebelled against the then CAF president Issa Hayatou’s directive for Africa to vote for the Swede.

COSAFA also showed its strength and influence when it started the revolution that eventually toppled Hayatou from his post as CAF president last year with Madagascar official, Ahmad Ahmad, sweeping to a comprehensive victory in Addis Ababa.

Diviåsions, though, still persist and there is a lot of work for the Moroccans to do to try and unite the entire region behind them.

Issues related to the politics of Western Sahara have always been a factor in the relationship between Morocco and some parts of the region.

This was shown when South African Football Association president, Danny Jordaan, a key member of COSAFA, announced the country would vote for Morocco only for the Sports Minister to say that would be against government policy.

“It is an old myth that Africa doesn’t have the capacity and naysayers should stop using the political argument,” Jordaan said.

“Africa hosted the best FIFA World Cup ever and with good support, Morocco can emulate South Africa.”

However, the South African Sports Minister Thoko Xasa said her country could not be seen to be supporting the Moroccans because of their political differences.

“We are very clear that we can’t support Morocco‚” she said. “Our parliament was very straightforward in this regard‚ it is the mandate of the country and it is an obligation for sporting bodies to understand what the country’s agenda is.

“You cannot just because you have experience in FIFA matters and you can go into the country that goes against the mandate of your country.

“South Africa has hosted many big events in the past‚ we are recognized throughout the world‚ our teams are doing very well.

“But there is so much competition to host these kinds of games even in Africa. That’s why you can hear Danny Jordaan saying ‘I am going to assist Morocco in their bid to host the World Cup’.”

However, the Moroccan bid committee members appeared to have made a huge breakthrough and impression on COSAFA members at their meeting at the weekend in Johannesburg.

The meeting followed an invitation from COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa who felt that given the Americans had also given them their presentation, they should also hear what the Moroccans were offering.

“Further to our previous communication and more recently to the President of COSAFA Dr Philip Chiyangwa’s visit to Morocco last week and in accordance with his request, we hereby formally invite Morocco 2026 Bid to make its Presentation of Morocco’s Bid for the FIFA World Cup 2026 to the Member Associations of COSAFA,” COSAFA wrote to the Moroccans.

And, after the address by the Moroccans last weekend, Chiyangwa said they were happy with what the North Africans had presented to them.

“I am happy to be sitting with the head of delegation of Morocco World Cup bid, committee ambassador (Daniel) Amokachi and my team from COSAFA,” said Chiyangwa in a video statement.

“The presentation was good and I am sure members of COSAFA are excited with your bid and the recommendations they have given you in terms of this bid being an African bid.

“I trust that your coming, although late, is good and as president of COSAFA we will also be hearing news that you disseminate and in time when the voting process is about to commence, we will obviously make pronouncements as a region so that you are in a better understanding.”

The head of the Moroccan delegation said their key message was that they were delivering an African bid to bring the World Cup to the continent.

“The key message is that our bid is an African bid,” he said in his message. “We would like to thank you for this feedback which will help us to improve our proposal to all African countries and make to FIFA a great proposal.

“I would also like to appreciate the open discussion we have had and I am sure you are in full appreciation of Morocco, the fact that our fans, our people, our football fans can travel to Morocco in 2026 low cost.”

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