By Andrew Warshaw in Marrakesh
March 26 – On the day FIFA released the bid books of the two contenders to stage the 2026 World Cup, African supporters of Morocco are crying foul over what they perceive as too much power being handed to the all-important panel that will determine whether the underdogs meet the necessary criteria to take on the heavyweight favourites from North America.
In a statement accompanying the eagerly awaited publication of the respective submissions by Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the bad old days of suspicion and skulduggery over selecting World Cup hosts were over.
Justifying the new selection process, which will for the first time be by open vote of 207 FIFA members, Infantino defended the way the two bidders will first be assessed by the so-called Evaluation Task Force to see if they meet a raft of requirements.
“FIFA has been heavily criticised for how it conducted the selection of hosts in the past; it was our obligation to learn from this and leave no room for any doubt or subjectivity,” said Infantino.
“This is why the rules of this process have been clear and objective from the beginning. The role of the 2026 Bid Evaluation Task Force and the principle of ensuring that the bidder(s) retained meet the eligibility criteria to host the biggest single-sport event in the world is a natural consequence of the enhanced process. These are necessary steps to ensure that we never go back to the ‘old ways’.”
Yet Infantino’s statement will be met with disappointment verging on anger by Morocco’s supporters who question the credibility of the panel and have highlighted the fact that the original bidding rules stated that it would be up to the ruling Council, which appointed the Task Force in the first place, to have the final say over whether two candidates had done enough to go head to head on June 13.
It is now clear that the Task Force itself, effectively comprising FIFA officials approved by Infantino, will take that decision, with the Council having no little or choice but to rubber-stamp its recommendations.
The fact that FIFA appear to have changed the goalposts is being perceived in African circles as dereliction of duty in terms of upholding its own rules. Morocco must get the green light from the evaluation panel in order to pursue its aim of upsetting the odds and winning the right to host after four defeats stretching back to 1994.
Infantino, who is widely believed to favour the three-nation bid of the United States, Canada and Mexico, has long insisted the process must be “bullet proof” after the scandals of 2018 and 2022.
But that has already been called into question on more than one occasion. First Morocco was barred from presenting its credentials to its own confederation in the same January week that United 2026 were allowed to present before the southern African COSAFA grouping.
Now FIFA and Infantino are coming under further scrutiny for giving the five-man task force carte blanche to decide whether a candidate can be thrown out of the process altogether.
According to Moroccan media, the dispute came to a head at the FIFA Council meeting two weeks ago in Bogota.
Confederation of African Football president Ahmad took umbrage at enhanced powers suddenly being given to the evaluation panel which include some of Infantino’s closest allies.
Apparently a vote was taken in Bogata with 17 Council members supporting the Task Force’s remit and the six African delegates voting against. The rest of those eligible to vote abstained including, interestingly, all the European members.
The narrative being played out among Morocco’s supporters and the local media here is one of a deliberate ploy to eliminate the north African nation before the vote on June 13 even takes place.
The lingering suspicion that politics will play a significant part in the outcome – just as it has in the past – will only be fuelled by Infantino’s statement despite his assertions to the contrary.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org