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  • France's public support for Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid was one thing, but what about that of two Concacaf nations? Even if it came from government, not FAs, it sheds light on an unpredictable process.
By Brian Straus
April 05, 2018

France is among the most important and successful footballing nations on the planet—a two-time World Cup host, a world champion at every men's age level and one of the most prolific producers of talent in the game.

Dominica and Saint Lucia are nowhere close to soccer’s pinnacle or vanguard. They’ve got a combined population of around 250,000 and their national teams consistently come in below No. 160 in FIFA’s monthly ranking. The most notable on-field accomplishment by either was Saint Lucia’s bronze medal at the 1991 Caribbean Cup.

But on one significant and potentially historic level, Dominica and Saint Lucia are France’s equal. Their ballots will count the same when FIFA determines the 2026 World Cup host at a one-country-one-vote congress on June 13 in Moscow. And this week all three nations—the influential power and the pair of tiny neighbors—have lent their support to Morocco rather than the “United Bid” of the USA, Canada and Mexico.

First, a clarification: an early April quote or press release doesn’t guarantee a given vote in June. And in the case of the Caribbean countries, the support came from government ministers—who technically have zero say or place at a FIFA congress—rather than their respective soccer federations. Those proclamations may even backfire if FIFA determines such pressure constitutes government interference, and rest assured there’ll be conversations between United Bid officials and executives at the DFA and SLFA.

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But taken together, the stated support for Morocco from France, Saint Lucia and Dominica—whether it was political or not—represents tangible evidence that the June vote is far from a fait accompli. Politics are unpredictable. And the financial heft and technical superiority of the United Bid—it essentially has all the required stadiums and infrastructure already in place—may not be enough to win the hearts and minds of some FIFA voters. Thanks to France, the United Bid now knows it can't necessarily count on like-minded industrialized democracies. And apparently it can’t even assume the support of its Concacaf neighbors, who one might think would like to see the World Cup return to their confederation for the first time more than 30 years. Winning is going to take work.

The United Bid, which is chaired by federation presidents Steven Reed (Canada), Decio de María (Mexico) and Carlos Cordeiro (USA), has acknowledged that. Following the controversial 2010 awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, respectively—the USA bid on its own for the latter—it’s been obvious that FIFA’s priorities can be muddled. Even the ouster of former president Sepp Blatter, the dissolution of the corrupt Executive Committee and the one-country-one-vote mechanism won’t entirely erase a culture defined by relationships, bias, alliance and self-interest.

“Clearly when people are voting for something like this, it’s not only about the technical specifics of a bid,” former U.S. Soccer president and United Bid chairman Sunil Gulati told SI.com last year. “It’s about what people think of the bid, what people think of your hospitality, what people think of the country, what people think about for politics, all those things. We don’t control all those things.”


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Speaking in February, Gulati, who’s still on the United Bid board, said, “This will be a tough battle. This is not only about our stadiums and our hotels and all that. It’s about perceptions of America and it’s a difficult time in the world. So, there’s only certain things we control. We can’t control what happens with the 38th parallel in Korea. We can’t control what happens with embassies in Tel Aviv. We can’t control what happens with climate change accords. We do the best we can. We have the support of Washington … we’ll now have to go out and convince what will eventually be 104 [FIFA members] to vote for us.”

Reed, De María and Cordeiro have already hit the campaign trail (stops include Colombia, Peru, Slovakia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea). And they’re expected to host FIFA technical inspectors next week, when they’ll be able to tour some of the 23 stadiums under consideration to stage a record 80 games (60 matches in the USA, 10 in Canada and 10 in Mexico).

During that visit and in meetings and conversations to follow, United Bid officials will emphasize and reemphasize the fact that their stadiums, training facilities, hotels, airports, and tourist and communications infrastructure already are in place. They’ll contrast that with the reported $15.8 billion Morocco has proposed to spend on new/upgraded arenas and infrastructure. And the United Bid will stress that a World Cup in the USA, Mexico and Canada is expected to generate $2.1 billion in ticket revenue, compared to $785 million in Morocco, plus an additional $300 million from TV.

Publicly, the Moroccan bid has said it can offset some of that financial discrepancy with a geographically compact tournament that’s easier for teams and fans to negotiate, plus a time zone that’s preferential to European and Asian markets. Privately, invoking Donald Trump or Loretta Lynch is just one of several ways it can try to win those hearts and minds. The reasons stated by France, Saint Lucia and Dominican officials for supporting Morocco are telling. It’s not always about the stadiums and hotels.

“I don't see how I cannot vote for a country near us. Africa has only had one World Cup in its history. That's not a lot,” Fédération Française de Football president Noël Le Graët told L’Equipe. “Morocco is ready even if it doesn't have the means of its rivals. France has only one vote but perhaps it will be a boost for Europe to choose Morocco.”

Saint Lucia’s support came via minister of development and sports Edmund Estephane, who told reporters, “My country’s government will be strong and will back Morocco’s bid 200 percent, which will do justice and honor the African continent and the Caribbean countries,” in part because “Morocco has never ceased to provide assistance and expertise to farmers in my country.”

Dominican foreign minister Francine Baron issued a statement Tuesday reading, “On behalf of Dominica, I am pleased to announce the support of my country for Morocco in the organization of the 2026 World Cup. … Dominica, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria, has a lot to learn from Morocco, which could help us become the first climate resilient country in the world.”

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There’s a chance a contested election may not happen, and that certainly would improve the United Bid’s prospects. It’s within FIFA’s rights to terminate a bid if it scores too low on its technical evaluation, and the governing body has been public about its desire to avoid “white elephant” stadiums like those in Brasilia, Manaus, Cuiabá and Natal built for the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Moroccan officials have expressed concerns about some of the technical requirements, and even accused FIFA of revising certain standards just before bid documents were due. But FIFA has remained steadfast, denying there were changes and insisting that bidders must meet minimum infrastructure requirements.

"Contrary to what the [Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football] implies, the hosting requirements, which were clearly set in the bidding registration and other bidding/hosting documents provided in 2017, have not changed. The scoring system merely provides a methodology for evaluating and documenting the extent to which the bids submitted fulfill those requirements in certain key areas,” FIFA said in a Tuesday statement to the Associated Press. “As explained many times, the bidding process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been designed to evaluate the bids against objective criteria and so avoid a return to the secret and subjective decisions of the past.”

Secrets can be avoided. The votes at the June 13 congress will be public. But ending subjectivity is impossible, and if Morocco passes its evaluation and arrives in Moscow with a chance, subjective is what FIFA and the United Bid will get. A technically superior bid has lost before. And in February, ESPN published a story citing sources who claimed Morocco had enough support from countries in Africa, Asia and South America to mount a serious threat. One of the key pillars of the United Bid’s presentation is “certainty.” This week’s news may have come from just three countries and one actual voter, but it was another reminder that nothing really is.

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