Morocco’s World Cup bid charm offensive rolls into southern Africa

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Robson Sharuko

Harare – Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will complete a remarkable decade in which the North African country would have bounced back from the humiliation of being banned from the Nations Cup to the glory of becoming only the second African country to stage global football’s greatest show, is now gathering momentum.

A few months ago, all the good money was on the joint bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico to win the vote to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup when the organisation’s members – in a shift from the previous scandal-plagued formula – would decide who gets the rights to stage that tournament.

The Americans staged a very successful FIFA World Cup finals in 1994 with the tournament, then moving into what was considered to be virgin territory for football, surprising critics by attracting full houses at every match, including the final, which was won by Brazil.

More than 3.6 million fans, at an average of 69,000 supporters per game, watched each of the World Cup matches at that World Cup in the United States – the highest number in the tournament’s history – and 94,194 poured into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the final between Brazil and Italy.

That tournament also remains the most financially successful World Cup ever held by the world football controlling body.

With the Americans now having Canada and Mexico on board, in a joint initiative to bring the 2026 World Cup across the Atlantic, they have been having most of the early running.

However, Morocco, have now launched a blitzkrieg to try and turn the tide and win the hearts of those who will cast their vote with the North African country bringing on board a number of former African football superstars to try and help them upstage the bid by the Americans, Canadians and Mexicans.

And, so far, the signs are encouraging with a number of African countries now coming out of their shells to throw their support behind the Moroccans.

Some analysts believe the Moroccans could profit from some bad blood which still exists between the Americans and a number of football leaders in the world over the way the United States Department of Justice spearheaded the crackdown on the corruption which had blighted FIFA and brought down the leadership of Sepp Blatter.

While the clean-up exercise was welcomed by many, there are some who still feel the Americans didn’t have the moral high ground for such an offensive given the bribery scandal which also fuelled the country’s successful bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics staged by Salt Lake City in Utah.

A number of high-profile International Olympic Committee members ended up being expelled for their part in that scandal.

The Moroccans, themselves, are no saints either and have in the past sharply divided opinion across Africa with some countries unhappy with the country’s part in the long-running Sahwari conflict and others unhappy this North African nation has been away from the continent’s family for more than three decades.

The Moroccans only rejoined the African Union in January last year after a 33-year absence.

Other African countries have never forgiven the Moroccans for refusing to host the 2015 AFCON finals, on the basis that doing so could expose them to the Ebola virus which had broken out in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and destroy a tourism industry which earns the country billions of dollars.

That stand-off, according to some African critics, showed the Moroccan leadership only want to associate themselves with the continent when it suits their interests but turn their backs to the rest of Africa when some of the countries need a helping hand.

However, the Moroccans have been rolling the red carpet to their African colleagues in a massive charm offensive in recent months, including hosting a number of CAF meetings, while also bringing into their fold a number of influential members of football on the continent.

Former Nigerian football striker Daniel Amokachi, legendary Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph Antoine-Bell and former Senegalese forward El Hadji Diouf are some of the continent’s influential football figures who have been roped in to try and help Morocco win the rights to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Amokachi and his team rolled into Southern Africa this week with whistle-stop tours in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa to promote the Moroccan bid.

Interestingly, the Americans had arrived earlier when they addressed the COSAFA Congress but the Moroccans have targeted the individual nations who will each have a vote to decide who hosts the 2026 World Cup.

In the past, the FIFA leadership was the one that had the power to decide who gets the rights but that process was seen to be tainted, with a number of them being found guilty of accepting bribes to vote in a certain way, and the new leaders in Zurich have now opened the process to involve all their members.

“We will do everything we can to help Morocco organize the World Cup in 2026. We will support this offer, it is a candidacy for Africa,” Diouf, the former Liverpool forward, told Radio Mars de Casablanca.

And, so far, South African and Angolan football leaders have come out in the open to say they will support the Morocco bid.

“Supporting Morocco is to unite Africa and make it even stronger due to the visibility that the event provides,” the president of the Angolan Football Federation, Artur Almeida, said at a media conference.

South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan said it was natural for his organisation and country to back to Moroccans.

South African soccer leader Danny Jordaan has promised Morocco “unqualified support” to host the 2026 World Cup in a contest against a combined North American bid.

“It is an old myth that Africa doesn’t have the capacity and naysayers should stop using the political argument. Africa hosted the best FIFA World Cup ever and with good support, Morocco can emulate South Africa,” he said after meeting Amokachi, Diouf and Bell.

“South Africa showed the way and I am confident Morocco will follow suit. The country has international standards; from the stadiums to top infrastructure. Morocco can compete with the best in the world.’’

Zambian football authorities have also promised Morocco support while the Algerian Minister of Sport, El Hadi Ould Ali, said they will back their neighbours.

“Supporting Morocco’s bid is a decision of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and we are very proudly committed to fulfil it,” he told reporters.

Blatter, the former FIFA president, has also unsurprisingly thrown his weight behind Morocco because of his issues with the Americans and how they instigated his spectacular fall from grace.

”Morocco would be the logical host! And it is time for Africa again!” he said on Twitter.

On June 3, this year, at the 69th FIFA Congress in Moscow, Russia, the 211 FIFA members will cast their votes for whoever they believe should win the rights to host the 48-team World Cup finals in                                                            2026.

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