Shock new favourite to host World Cup
HERE'S looking at you, kid.
Best known for mint tea and a city which acted as the setting for 1942 film Casablanca, Morocco could be landing the World Cup.
ESPN.com reports the United States-led 2026 bid is in jeopardy, in some part due to president Donald Trump's growing unpopularity in Arab and poorer countries.
"Support for the United States-led bid to host the 2026 World Cup is more divided than most predicted," ESPN.com senior writer Sam Borden wrote. "With some estimates of voting totals having Morocco not just threatening the North American bid but actually beating it, multiple high-ranking football executives within FIFA and the continental confederations told ESPN this week."
The US-Canada-Mexico triumvirate was expected to comfortably gain a majority of votes - and even attempted to bypass the normal bidding process and have FIFA award them the tournament early.
But Morocco is now a serious opponent - and not only because of Trump's blundering.
Despite a population of just 33 million, Morocco already boasts six stadiums with capacity for 45,000 fans or more and has earmarked plans to build at least five or six more - including a 100,000-seat state of the art centrepiece in Casablanca.
The country has experience hosting football tournaments, including the 2013 and 2014 editions of the FIFA Club World Cup and the recent 2018 Africa Cup of Nations.
Logistically, there would be far less travel involved than what players and teams would endure crisscrossing North America. "Morocco offers quite a compact solution," Hicham El Amrani, chief executive of the Morocco 2026 bid, told The Independent. "The venues that will be proposed will not be more than one hour 15 flight between them. Players who will travel less will rest more, and hopefully will produce a better quality of football."
And crucially, the northwestern African nation sits in the same time zone as the UK, positioning it ideally for television audiences across Europe and the Middle East.
More than half of the countries that will compete in the first edition of the new 48-team format will come from Europe and Africa.
"What represents our strength is our positioning, our location," El Amrani said. "In terms of profitability, the World Cup is going to have 16 nations from Europe and nine from Africa that are within the same time-zone. Europe is more than half the world in terms of revenue generation. And the Middle East is increasingly important."
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently backed the Moroccan bid on Twitter, a day after it was revealed FIFA has written to football officials to inform them that the ban on statements of support for one bid or another has been lifted.
The decision will be made by all of FIFA's 211 member associations before this summer's World Cup at the annual congress in Moscow on June 13.
With the tournament growing from 32 teams to 48, the US-led joint bid is by far the safest option in terms of construction, logistics and potential revenues. But what had been viewed as a very easy choice has become more interesting following Donald Trump's election as president.
His disparaging remarks about poorer nations and contentious foreign-policy moves have diminished America's popularity in many countries, perhaps giving Morocco a chance to profit from anti-Trump sentiment.
- with PA