When the United States of America, along with Mexico and Canada, presented a joint project to host the 2026 World Cup, there didn’t seem to be any chance for outsiders. After the controversial Qatar 2022 allocation, FIFA, under the new stewardship of Gianni Infantino, wanted to play it safe, starting from a strong and persuasive proposal. Right in that moment, a surprising opponent made their appearance: Morocco.
“We are ready to welcome the world – reads an official statement on the brand new website of the 2026 Moroccan World Cup candidacy – and it is our promise to stage a tournament overflowing with real passion, to celebrate the best face of the game and its values of unity, peace and integrity.“
Words signed by Moulay Hafid Elalamy, chairman of the Morocco 2026 bid committee. A candidacy that has to face an unprecedented challenge: the first World Cup featuring 48 teams. The biggest football tournament ever, apparently destined to be played in North America. Nevertheless, month after month the Moroccan project showed that they could confidently face the new standards imposed by FIFA. Furthermore, in spite of earlier negative predictions, the proposal from Rabat started to gain credibility.
It is not so surprising after all: starting from the football supporters’ point of view, first of all, to follow a World Cup in Morocco would bring economic benefits. Twelve candidate towns, all within a couple of hours of flight time, certainly represent a major argumentation in favour of the North-African proposal, further boosted by a wide touristic selection: from worldwide-known beaches in Agadir to historical monuments in Meknes, then, to finish on a high note, the candidacy of Ouarzazate, outpost between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert where the construction of a 45.000-seat arena has been planned.
Ouarzazate is the emblem of this proposal: ambitious location, with a booming economy, it already caught the eye of motorsport lovers thanks to an advertising campaign by the Formula E series, underlining the recent efforts made by the Moroccan Kingdom as part of a massive and visionary solar energy investment.
Flagship of Morocco 2026, Ouarzazate is already visited by thousands of tourists year after year due to the many desert oasis in its immediate proximities. Football could be another excellent reason to explore a country that would amaze many supporters – Americans aside, of course. As far as stadiums are concerned, two of them are planned in Marrakech and in Casablanca, where the passion for football has already been narrated by movies and documentaries from all over the world. The project also includes a stadium each for Fez, Meknes, Agadir, Rabat, Tangier, Nador, El Jadida, Oujda, Tétouran and the above-mentioned Ouarzazate. All locations that can be reached by low-cost flights, as well as destinations full of history and landmarks.
Even for who doesn’t have a touristic interest, however, a 2026 World Cup in Morocco presents benefits compared with the joint North-American candidacy. The whole tournament would be played in the same time zone: given the geographic location of the country (lining up exactly with the Greenwich meridian, perfect for European and African viewers), football lovers from all over the world, including South-East Asians and Americans, would manage to follow most of the matches at a reasonable hour. That must not be underestimated, especially for TV-broadcast giants, as they would probably improve their incomes with a World Cup set at Greenwich hour.
The Moroccan project also received the endorsement of American magazine Forbes that, underlining the positive outcomes of the Kingdom’s candidacy, remembered that the whole African continent decided to back Rabat’s proposal. An opinion shared by reporter James Montague, who summarised on Bleacher Report the issues that are currently threatening the North-American alliance: “Donald Trump has opened the door to Morocco.” Citing the words of an anonymous former high-ranking FIFA official, Montague collected various perplexities on the current USA presidency’s work. Trump will surely be out of his current political mandate by 2026, nevertheless his controversial travel-ban attempts and his notorious expression “s**tholes countries“, along with other contested politics, seem to have alienated many votes to USA by many Arab, African and Asian nations. The same opinion expressed by Alan Rothenberg, former president of the USA Football Federation, interviewed by Montague. “International geopolitical issues come into play – added the supervisor of the 1994 World Cup.
Some of the things the current administration has said or done would cause concern in some parts of the world, and everyone has an equal vote.
Under this light, it is quite clear that the Moroccan candidacy is more than a flash in the pan. From this perspective, it’s fair to cite the work made by the Federation set in Rabat in the last years. Most of this had been unveiled to us by Amine Rahmouni, journalist based in Casablanca.
“There’s the willingness to put Morocco back on the CAF chessboard – told us Rahmouni, remembering the Moroccan waiver to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations – two men deserve credit for that. The first is the president of the FRMF, Faouzi Lekjaa, also financial director, that faced the issues of Moroccan football to bring it back to its past glory. So we can explain a place into the executive committee of the CAF, an almost daily attention to the evolution of our National Team and a Federation that wants to bring the Botola (the Moroccan football club league, ndr) back to a high level. The second man is Hervé Renard, who has been given all the tools to put our National Team back on track. This duo worked perfectly, with a qualification to the second round to the last Africa Cup of Nations and to the World Cup in Russia. Anyway, the most important thing is political will, furthermore a complete endorsement to the project by everyone involved.“
Passion and know-how: a context that saw Morocco improving on the road to Russia 2018, even playing a pleasing and enjoyable football (not to be missed the team play that led the “Atlas Lions” towards the 1-0 penalty, in the 2-1 win against Serbia last Friday in Turin, Italy). At club level, moreover, the country went even further, claiming the African throne with Wydad Athletic Club as champion of the CAF Champions League. Outside the pitch, the “Atlas Lions” represent an unusual example for the continent. Even the next Africa Cup of Nations, planned in Cameroon in the summer of 2019, may finish into the hands of Rabat, already planning for an alternative convincing proposal to host the tournament.
It may just be a general rehearsal, as they hope in Morocco. We’ll know more as soon as June comes: 13th June 2018, Moscow, a few hours before the 2018 World Cup, an announcement will keep four nations eagerly awaiting. Who knows if, against many odds, the 2026 World Cup is going back to Africa.