By Akinwale Kasali
The hope of another African country staging the FIFA World Cup was dashed as the trio of USA, Canada and Mexico won the bid to stage the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the dismay of the North African country and African soccer enthusiasts at large.
The United States, Mexico and Canada won the right to host the 2026 World Cup after easily beating Morocco in a vote by FIFA member nations on Wednesday.
The North American bid received 134 of the 203 votes, while Morocco polled 65 in the ballot at a FIFA Congress held in Moscow on the eve of the 2018 World Cup.
Football’s showpiece event will return to the North American continent for the first time since 1994 when the United States hosted the tournament.
Delegates had been faced with a clear choice — the joint North American bid boasts modern, established stadiums and well-developed transport links underpinned by Mexican football fervour.
Morocco, on the other hand, promised a “European” World Cup in Africa, playing on the north African nation’s proximity to Europe.
But compared to North America, Morocco’s bid existed largely on paper — many stadiums and roads would have had to have been built and critics questioned how it would have coped with the 2026 tournament, which will be expanded to 48 teams.
FIFA inspectors classified the north African nation’s stadiums, accommodation and transport as “high risk”, awarding it just 2.7 out of five in an evaluation report, with concerns raised over several critical aspects.
They warned “the amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated”.
The report made the US-Canada-Mexico bid the clear favourite after rating it four out of five, and Morocco was not able to bridge the gap.
In a related development, FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said on Wednesday he will stand for re-election as the head of football’s world governing body next year.
Infantino said earlier that FIFA had been “clinically dead” when he took over in 2016 from long-time president Sepp Blatter who was engulfed by corruption allegations.
Two years later, it was “very much alive” and full of “joy”, with a clear vision for its future, Infantino said in remarks to the FIFA Congress in Moscow on the eve of the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.
Infantino’s announcement was widely expected.
Blatter is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors for alleged corruption during his 17-year reign at the head of FIFA.
Elections that handed the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 have since been the target of allegations of bribery, and hastened the end of Blatter’s time in office. He continues to protest his innocence.
Infantino has put FIFA on a sound financial footing and made efforts to address allegations that FIFA had become riddled with corruption and its senior officials open to bribes.
The 48-year-old Swiss has also ushered in the introduction of innovations such as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system to analyse controversial on-pitch incidents during matches.
VAR will make its World Cup debut in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Infantino in a short speech to the FIFA Congress.
“We know that Infantino became the head of FIFA in difficult times but he has steered it well, like a true fighter,” Putin said.
Infantino, the former secretary general of football’s European governing body UEFA, was little known before he took over sport’s richest governing body.
It is thought he strongly backed the joint bid by the United States, Mexico and Canada host the 2026 World Cup, which easily beat Morocco in a vote of FIFA nations on Wednesday.
That was a case of returning the favour — the three winning countries had given Infantino support in his bid to succeed Blatter.
The choice of the 2026 host nation was made by 203 member countries after the rules were changed to widen the voting college following the controversial victories of Russia and Qatar.
Those decisions were made by the 24-member FIFA Executive Committee, several members of which have been convicted on corruption charges.