FIFA World Cup 2026: How it all went wrong for Morocco’s hosting bid

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Morocco’s dream of hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup was dead long before its birth. They got it all wrong from the beginning.

Victory for the USA in the 2026 World Cup bid is an additional argument for preparedness. International Federations – FIFA not exclusive – are taking steps towards reducing the risk of hosting sports events of global magnitude.

Of the 23 stadia proposed by the Americas, 17 will not require any major renovation programme, while out of 14 proposed by Morocco, nine will be newly constructed and five will undergo major renovation. In addition to stadium plans, Morocco will carry out major infrastructural development that bother on healthcare/medical facilities, hotels/hospitality services, and  transportation. United 2026 on the other hand, have these infrastructure largely in place.

The bid from Morocco, howbeit with tremendous impact if it was approved, seemed like an afterthought. At the time, it appeared the United 2026 bid would sail unopposed until Morocco threw her hat into the ring. Clearly, not many nations, whether individual or joint bids, were prepared to take on the attractive tripartite bid. The cost, public approval, personnel, and infrastructure involved could be catastrophic if not well thought through.

South Africa and Brazil should serve as case studies for any potential host nation on the ‘how not to’ plan to host a global sports event. Asides legacy, it has proven difficult to measure the exact impact hosting the World Cup has had given the countless losses both nations suffered during and after the period.

The ideal?

China is the toast of many International Federations right now. Since they hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, the country has evolved into a destination sports market. In 2014 when President Xi Jinping announced steps the nation will take towards becoming a global sports leader, predominant thoughts were, firstly to transform the nation’s youth into an active health-driven population; and secondly, to include sports as an active economic sector contributing to the GDP among many other plans.

So far, China is well on course to realizing this agenda ahead of her 15-20 years plan. Already, the country is earmarked to host FIBA World Cup 2019, Formula E 2019, Winter Olympics 2022, Rugby World Cup 2023 and there are whispers China plans to bid for 2030 FIFA World Cup which is well within reach. This is the ideal model, one which Saudi Arabia is adopting as the kingdom transits from an oil-nation to a more diverse economy driven by sports, tourism, hospitality and entertainment.

Who benefits?

Morocco and Africa didn’t just miss out on the hosting right for the World Cup. The North African nation will rue its lost opportunity to attract greater foreign direct investment (FDI) through what should have been a period of economic boom. No doubt one of Africa’s destination market, Morocco would have experienced a unique transformation to further boost her thriving tourism sector.

Unlike the maturity of the sports industry in the United States, one of the three member-states to win the bid ahead of 2026, Morocco’s ambition would have cost the nation a massive $16 billion infrastructural investment to realize a conservative revenue of $7 billion post-World Cup. That’s way below a tipping point for return on investment.

However, the world’s attention would have been on Morocco’s hospitality and how it can leverage on the most prestigious sport event to design legacy projects with long-term impacts. The results would include:

  1. A growth in healthy population.
  2. Access to increased number of sports facilities.
  3. Access to adequate healthcare system.
  4. Increase in destination marketing for international sports events.
  5. Improved profile as a transportation hub.

Conversely, Africa benefitting from Morocco hosting the World Cup would have been a medium to long-term thing for the continent. With largely developing – and in certain instances poorly developing – markets across regions, benefits accrued from Morocco’s hosting should potentially include:

  1. Increased, and improved, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements/relations.
  2. Cross-regional transport exchange.
  3. Technical exchange programmes.
  4. Integrated support systems and peer review mechanism.

Given its proximity to Europe, Morocco’s productive activities would have been bolstered by its economic diversity.

 

Pitfalls?

The developing world has not garnered a favourable impression among the comity of nations – especially from the West – on infrastructural delivery. South Africa and Brazil experienced difficulties in the timeline to complete and make ready available infrastructure. What’s to suggest that Morocco may not have similar challenges from the point of being awarded the right to host to the full cycle of the 2026 FIFA World Cup?

These are critical concerns that made their bid a longshot to bet on. Having received 65 votes at the FIFA Congress to 134 votes in favour of United 2026, there is little to suggest, besides high level lobbying, how unattractive Morocco’s ambition was no matter how laudable.

It was always going to be a “high risk” as stated in FIFA’s Evaluation Task Force report. The assessment of the committee was benchmarked across objective metrics to guide – and not influence – the voting decisions of Congress members. Some might argue, that the report did influence the outcome of Congress. Perhaps so, but the fact remains that it was a high risk.

There is also the argument of an isolated nation. Morocco might be a toast among tourists, but its conservative social structure could also have had an effect on its chances to host the World Cup. It would have been the first Islamic nation to ever host the Mundial, and several discriminatory legal as well as religious beliefs would be antithetical to the spirit of the FIFA World Cup that promotes equity and fair play among participating countries by host nations.

Finally, a salient talking point was Morocco missing out on the Africa Cup of Nations 2015 when on the grounds of spread of the Ebola virus, the country made a moment’s decision to turn down its right to host the competition. This decision left a sour taste among not too few African countries and observers across the world. Some interpreted it to indicate Morocco’s unpreparedness to manage the situation prior and during the tournament.

This lost opportunity signals the need for potential bid nations to review their approach towards international sports events. Morocco like any other potential, must be proactive in developing masterplans that puts them in a vantage point to compete. The world is shifting from a previous culture that showed little regards for accountability in resource allocation to sports investment. It is pertinent to be ready even before being called upon to get involved.

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