After World Cup success, Morocco has renewed aims to host
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The idea that Morocco could co-host the 2030 World Cup with near-neighbors Spain and Portugal seemed a bit crazy when it was floated four years ago.
It doesn’t seem so crazy now.
Morocco has gained status inside FIFA and credibility with fans by eliminating Spain and then Portugal in knockout games to be the first African team to advance to a World Cup semifinals.
There are longer-term prospects for the national team with a solid foundation seemingly in place. There’s strong recruitment from the Moroccan diaspora in Europe, coupled with homegrown players nurtured at a world-class training center near Rabat.
Though there is no proposal yet to create a first multicontinent World Cup hosting bid, the head of Morocco’s soccer federation still believes in the concept.
“We wanted this organization to be shared between the African continent and the European continent,” Fouzi Lekjaa told The Associated Press in an interview at the team hotel this week.
“In order to show the world that the relationship between Africa and Europe is not only the relationship of illegal immigration and the fight against it,” Lekjaa said. “Rather, it is a relationship in which civilizations can meet and cultures meet.”
That Morocco and Spain are so geographically close — “We are only 14 kilometers (less than 10 miles) away” Lekjaa noted — is the core appeal of any joint bid as it was in 2018.
So is the support of King Mohammed VI who immediately asked for a renewed World Cup bid when Morocco lost the 2026 tournament hosting vote to the heavily favored United States-Canada-Mexico plan. The latest in a streak of losing Morocco bids was a 134-65 vote by FIFA member federations in Moscow on the eve of the last World Cup.
What has changed since 2018?
Lekjaa, a government minister in charge of the state budget, now has more influence at FIFA as an African elected delegate on its ruling Council since joining last year. He is clearly in good graces with FIFA president Gianni Infantino given that holding a government job was once a barrier to candidates in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
“Now we seek to be a key player in the international dimension within FIFA,” Lekjaa acknowledged.
What seems possible in soccer politics also changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with continental championships postponed plus hosts and scheduled dates changed at short notice.
European soccer body UEFA was flatly opposed in 2018 to jointly bidding with another continent.
Still, Europe and Africa combine to have 109 of the 211 FIFA voting members and there was clear politics involved in Ukraine joining the Spain-Portugal bid in October.
FIFA has yet to specify a timetable and bid rules toward an expected hosting decision in 2024 for the 2030 tournament.
Infantino also had talks with political leaders that fueled speculation of an unlikely three-continent bid anchored by Saudi Arabia and also including Egypt and Greece. By comparison, uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco looks more logical.
The 100-year anniversary of the World Cup is in 2030, and the original 1930 host, Uruguay, is jointly bidding for it with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. The South American soccer body CONMEBOL has just 10 votes at FIFA.
Morocco is also building influence in African soccer and winning admirers globally for the $65 million Mohammed VI Football Center, which is a training base for players, coaches, referees and officials.
“Morocco’s policy has made us an important partner for all African countries. We are present in partnerships in money and business, and also in sports,” Lekjaa said.
Under his leadership since 2014, the Moroccan federation tried to professionalize management at its clubs, install more natural grass pitches and create regional youth training bases.
Casablanca-based team Wydad, coached by Walid Regragui, benefited from this strategy, winning Africa’s Champions League in May.
Regragui was installed as the coach of Morocco’s national team three months later, with Lekjaa emphasizing that the national team that beat Portugal on Saturday featured seven players from Moroccan clubs.
“There is no reason for European teams to be better than us,” Lekjaa said. “They are now better than us because they work in professional ways, and this is what we seek.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports