By Andrew Warshaw
April 17 – Morocco’s bid to stage the 2026 World Cup has reached its most crucial phase to date with the arrival of FIFA’s evaluation panel for a three-day visit that could make or break the north African country’s chances.
The five-member FIFA Task Force, supported by an influential back-up team of officials, were beginning their inspection today with a visit to stadiums, training centres, proposed fan fest sites and other key venues having already visited the USA, Canada and Mexico who are jointly bidding against Morocco.
“Morocco is offering FIFA and the global football family an innovative and compact concept to ensure operational efficiency, outstanding profitability and a lasting legacy in Morocco and Africa,” said the bid committee’s president, Moulay Hafid Elalamy in a statement.
“The World Cup in Morocco would not only be a source of pride but also a great catalyst for development.”
Ahead of the FIFA team’s arrival, however, Morocco came under fire from animal rights groups for trying to present a false image by putting to death stray dogs, the Swiss charity Tierbotschafter presenting sickening footage of officials shooting dogs that had been rounded up.
There was also unwanted publicity over the fact that homosexuality is a criminal offense in the north African country.
“Under the new non-discrimination requirements under FIFA’s statutes and under the Human Rights Policy, one of the red lines is anti-gay activity laws or policies,” Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden told the Associated Press. “Morocco, if they’re serious about winning, would need to be prepared to repeal the article of the penal code which punishes people for being gay.”
Ahmed El Haij, president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, told the AP: “Morocco’s human rights report presented to the FIFA is an intentional silence on an issue that Morocco knows too well is a crime on its soil.”
In the build-up to this week’s visit by the Task Force, whose report will determine whether Morocco will be on the ballot paper on June 13 to take on the heavyweight United 2026 bid visit, the Moroccans criticised the point-scoring system being used to evaluate the two candidates, protesting to FIFA about adding last-minute criteria to the bid process without prior warning, a complaint FIFA denies.
Morocco will be trying to convince the FIFA experts about its passion for football, relatively compact size and “sweetspot” time zones for broadcasters. The country has already made four unsuccessful bids to host the tournament in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 when it just lost out to South Africa.
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