World Cup bid should be a lock for North America, but it's not and here's why

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

The deadline for submitting the final bid paperwork is March 16, with an election to select the winner scheduled for June's FIFA Congress in Moscow. And this year, for the first time, the 207 FIFA-member nations not bidding for the tournament all have votes that count equally, giving members such as the tiny Indian Ocean island of Comoros, which has fewer than 800,000 residents, the same electoral clout as China and India, who have populations of more than 1.3 billion.

Of graver danger to the North American bid is the fact nations historically vote in blocs -- meaning Africa, the largest of FIFA's six confederations with 57 countries, is likely to cast most if not all of its votes for Morocco. The confederation will meet next month to discuss an endorsement and if it agrees on a unanimous vote, Morocco would have more than half the votes it needs to win.

Several Gulf and Middle Eastern countries also may back Morocco, some for cultural reasons and others such as Syria, Iran, Jordan and Pakistan for political ones.

The North Americans, meanwhile, have been pledged the support of the 14 Oceania countries and are likely to get all 38 votes from CONCACAF, the confederation to which they belong. But South America, which was hit by the indictments of nearly two dozen individuals in the 2015 FIFA corruption case launched by the U.S. Justice Department, could be a problem. For some there, a vote against the U.S.-led bid would serve as payback; Mexican diplomacy may be needed to win their votes.

UEFA, the massive confederation representing the European countries, appears split with some countries such as France and Spain likely to consider Morocco, for ease of travel if nothing else, while others remain firmly aligned with the North Americans.

If it seems like a stretch to consider Morocco over North America, it is. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have combined to host six World Cups -- three for men, three for women -- including the 1994 event, the most lucrative and best-attended in history. Morocco is currently staging the 16-team African Nations Championship, the largest competition to which it has played host.

FIFA will require stadiums with at least 40,000 seats for all 80 matches of the 2026 World Cup. The U.S. alone has 130 venues that size; Morocco has six, none of them large enough to host the tournament opener or final. It would take an enormous investment for Morocco, bidding for the World Cup for the fifth time, to meet the most modest FIFA standards.


The commercial and sponsorship opportunities for a North American World Cup also figure to swamp anything the Moroccans could offer.

The U.S. has been down this road before. It was the heavy favorite to win the rights to stage the 2022 World Cup, only to lose to tiny Qatar -- a blistering hot Middle Eastern kingdom smaller in size and population than Los Angeles County.

Last week the Moroccans announced they have hired London-based Vero Communications, the firm that pushed Qatar's successful World Cup campaign across the finish line. Vero also helped Paris land the 2024 Olympic Games, for which Los Angeles also bid.

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