By Andrew Warshaw
February 19 – The race to land the 2026 World Cup has exploded into fresh controversy with FIFA facing accusations of double standards and underhand tactics despite its efforts, in public at least, to ensure a squeeky clean bidding process ahead of the June vote.
Just weeks after underdogs Morocco were banned at the last moment from promoting their bid in front of their own African region because of FIFA’s strict guidelines, the three-nation bid of the United States, Canada and Mexico was given the go-ahead to make a presentation before selected African representatives in Johannesburg last Friday.
The presentation was made by United 2026 bid leader Sunil Gulati who tweeted: “#United2026 presentation to 14 member nations of @COSAFAmedia in JoBurg”.
It would appear that Gulati made his address not to the annual congress of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) in Johannesburg which met on Saturday but either during or around a separate meeting of the Cosafa executive 24 hours earlier. That calls into question the issue of transparency given FIFA’s new-look determination – in rhetorical speeches at least – to apply fair play and good governance and have an open 2026 process without any prospect of secrecy or backroom deals.
Insideworldfootball understands that talks over United 2026 presenting to Cosafa officials were held nine days earlier in Oman on the fringes of FIFA’s latest so-called executive summit headed by Gianni Infantino and attended by more than 20 FIFA members. Gulati is understood to have been one of those present along with Cosafa’s Zimbabwean boss Phillip Chiyangwa and South African FA chief Danny Jordaan.
Whether or not Infantino personally endorsed last Friday’s United 2026 presentation cannot be verified but those who have followed the process to date point to Infantino appearing to favour the rival US-led bid and question why his own conduct is seemingly not covered by the ultra-strict directive issued by his number two Fatma Samoura urging neutrality.
In late December, speaking at a sports business conference in Dubai, Infantino, chief architect of the expanded 48-nation World Cup, declared that the joint bid for 2026 sent out a “positive message”.
It is understood that the Moroccans, furious at being barred from trumpeting their credentials at the recent Confederation of African Football (CAF) Congress in Casablanca, are now further incensed at what they perceive as blatant double standards.
They claim that just as they were given a dressing down by FIFA at the CAF Congress and forced to remove their presentation from the agenda because the US-led bid team had not been given the same opportunity, so Gulati should also have been prevented from making a presentation – worse still to a grouping of African nations in Morocco’s own region.
To make matters even murkier and more contentious, FIFA appears to have tried to cover its back and legalise Gulati’s presentation by issuing a new set of guidelines clarifying what bidders can and cannot do.
Insideworldfootball has seen extracts of the new recommendations, sent to Samoura by the FIFA ethics committee, which backtrack somewhat on her previous uncompromising approach.
Presentations, says the ethics’ committee advisory, “will be allowed at meetings of regional associations, groupings of member associations and individual member associations” … provided “the principles of fairness and transparency are respected.”
“In such cases please notify FIFA in writing about any such request from a bidder.”
Whether such a request was made ahead of last week’s address in Johannesburg is unclear though there is little doubt that the US-led bid team would have been 100% confident of staying within the rules given the 2018 and 2022 bid process and the sensitivities involved this time. But co-incidentally or not, FIFA’s clarification guidelines were dated the very same day the presentation took place – with seemingly not enough time for Morocco to be invited. Deliberate? Make up your own minds.
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