By Andrew Warshaw
April 23 – Just days after FIFA’s 2026 World Cup evaluation panel completed its inspection visits to the two candidates, fresh claims have emerged of unfair treatment towards Morocco that threaten to undermine the all-important vote in June.
Insideworldfootball reported exclusively over Easter that FIFA had added previously undisclosed changes to the eligibility criteria to the detriment of Morocco in the final hours before the deadline for bid books to be handed over.
The Moroccans said they knew nothing about the last-minute alterations and federation (FRMF) president Fouzi Lekjaa wrote directly to Gianni Infantino, copied to members of the FIFA Council and the Task Force evaluation team, in protest at the apparent delaying tactics.
FIFA vehemently denied any such underhand tactics took place or that hosting requirements had changed. But Lekjaa wrote back saying he was not satisfied by FIFA’s explanation and now reports in Germany have added fresh suspicion to complaints by Morocco’s supporters that the FIFA administration is plotting behind the scenes to ensure the north Africans are disqualified before their bid even makes it as far as the ballot paper in Moscow.
According to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, at a meeting in Zurich in the days leading up to the deadline for bid books to be submitted, a revised version of the list of conditions – expanded from an initial eight pages to 50 – increased the minimum number of existing stadiums required from four to six.
The fact that Morocco’s submission proposed only five – each of which will require substantial upgrading – would have ruled them out of contention.
According to Welt am Sonntag, the request – wherever and whoever it came from – was turned down by the five-member Task Force. But the story only serves to fuel speculation that Infantino, who received considerable backing from then US Soccer supremo Sunil Gulati when he became FIFA president, wants to repay such support by making sure that 2026 goes to North America.
To add further spice to the ongoing process, unconfirmed reports out of Germany also suggest the Moroccans, still firm underdogs despite picking up support in all but two of FIFA’s six confederations, may well take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) if they are excluded from the process before the vote takes place.
Given Infantino’s highly controversial recent comments about the possibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team World Cup in 2020, it would seem inconceivable for FIFA to judge Morocco incapable of doing the same in 2026, the first time the tournament is slated to be increased from 32 finalists.
Much intrigue now surrounds the publication of the Task Force’s findings, scheduled for the start of June, amid concerns by Moroccan supporters that the panel may not have been sufficiently impartial since it comprised hand-picked Infantino allies rather than independent members.
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