Inshallah: Morocco's World Cup bid
by Jonathan Rest
The 2026 World Cup bidders will learn next week whether they will be included on the 13 June ballot. Jonathan Rest analyses the merits and pitfalls of Morocco's fourth attempt to host the tournament. Author
24th May 2018, 11:38

‘Inshallah’ (God willing).

You hear it regularly in Morocco, whether it’s in the maze of the souks of Marrakech in the west, or in the tea shops that line the labyrinth of alleyways in the medina of Tangier at the northern-most tip of the country.

It’s also on the lips of many officials working on Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup.

Can Morocco really beat the North American powerhouse bid of USA-Canada-Mexico at a 13 June vote in Moscow? 

'Inshallah'.

Will Morocco even make it to the Russian capital? (After all, it must pass an assessment by Fifa’s bid evaluation taskforce – the reports are due to be published on 29 May - and, if some Morocco 2026 bid employees are to be believed, Fifa has been “moving the goalposts” on criteria.)

'Inshallah'.

If Morocco 2026 can make it to the starting line, it will make for a fascinating vote of all 207 eligible Fifa member associations next month (the four bidding nations cannot vote).

Just don't call it 'David vs Goliath'.

"I've seen that a few times," bid chief executive Hicham El Amrani tells me. "I hate this David vs Goliath analogy. Are we the underdog? Maybe in some people's eyes. But we don't think so. We have a strong bid, a great story to tell and can deliver to Fifa an excellent World Cup."

The prospect of a Morocco win looked a far cry nine months ago when the country announced its entry in the two-horse race. What followed was five months of information blackout - the bid even staged a press conference but took no questions - compared with the slick, organised and public-facing North American operation.

Hicham El Amrani - the man leading Morocco's charge to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup

Come the New Year, Morocco shifted up two or three gears, unveiling its bid logo, bringing in Vero Communications, the experienced consultancy firm run by Mike Lee, and hiring El Amrani, the former secretary general of the Confederation of African Football.

El Amrani is an impressive, affable individual. A multi-lingual orator with strong connections in the game following six years as Issa Hayatou’s sidekick at CAF, and before that four years as marketing manager at the Asian Football Confederation.

Combined, the two confederations will account for 99 votes on 13 June.

The winner will require 104 votes as part of a change to the Fifa statutes that stripped the now-disbanded (and largely discredited) 22-man executive committee of the power to allocate World Cups, and put it in the hands of all member associations.

For one day, at least, Timor-Leste and Brazil will share an equal footing in world soccer.

Geopolitics will take precedence over the minute details contained in the bid books that have been painstakingly put together at great expense, both in personnel and finances. 

And these glossy documents will no doubt be ignored, gathering dust on the desks of the majority of the electorate.

Infrastructure 

A peek into Morocco’s plans would make for welcome reading…if you own a construction company.

It has proposed 14 stadia in 12 cities, of which Fifa would ultimately select 12 venues to host matches.

All 14 stadia require differing levels of work; the five existing ones will be upgraded, while nine need to be built, of which six would be legacy modular stadia (LMS) allowing their capacity to be reduced after the tournament.

All that, according to the bid team, can be achieved on a construction budget of $3 billion, which seems optimistic at best.

It claims that construction and raw material costs in Morocco are low while, importantly, all stadium agreements have been signed without restriction and all land proposed for new venues is already secured and publicly-owned, thus removing a major financial burden.

That $3 billion forms part of the projected $12.6 billion in public investment that also requires hospital services to be upgraded in 20 cities and transport networks to be improved for the World Cup, after the increase from 32 to 48 participating nations.

Another $3.2 billion of private investment is required to build hotels containing around 30,000 rooms.

So an outlay of almost $16 billion to ready the country for the 2026 World Cup. Or a hefty 16 per cent of its GDP.

The sums are eye-watering but the bid insists the money is guaranteed by the government and that construction costs will remain close to the given estimates, thanks to economic forecasts of long-term controlled inflation (around 2 per cent to 2026) and a stable currency.

 

Morocco 2026 Stadia

Stadium

City

World Cup capacity

Post-World Cup capacity

Status

Construction cost

Overlay cost

Grand Stade de Casablanca

Casablanca

93,000

93,000

Planned (2025)

$404m

$3.8m

Grand Stade de Marrakech

Marrakech

69,565

61,000

To be renovated

$95.7m

$25.3m

Adrar Stadium

Agadir

46,048

41,800

To be renovated

$80.7m

$14.4m

Fez Stadium

Fez

46,092

35,000

To be renovated

$59.5m

$22.1m

Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium

Rabat

46,500

46,500

To be renovated

$54.7m

$6.6m

Ibn-Battouta Stadium

Tangier

65,000

65,000

To be renovated

$61.6m

$7.2m

Oujda Stadium

Oujda

45,400

45,400

Planned (2022)

$47.6m

$4.2m

Tetouan Stadium

Tetouan

45,600

45,600

Planned (2020)

$38.8m

$4.1m

Casablanca Stadium

Casablanca

46,000

46,000

New LMS (2024)

$173.4m

$2m

El Jadida Stadium

El Jadida

46,000

25,000

New LMS (2024)

$150.6m

$25.9m

Marrakech Stadium

Marrakech

46,000

25,000

New LMS (2024)

$153.6m

$25.9m

Meknes Stadium

Meknes

46,000

25,000

New LMS (2024)

$151.9m

$25.9m

Nador Stadium

Nador

46,000

20,000

New LMS (2024)

$148.2m

$31.8m

Ouarzazate Stadium

Ouarzazate

46,000

20,000

New LMS (2024)

$146.6m

$31.8m

Source: Morocco 2026 Bid Book, Volume 2


While the stadium projects are a nod to the new, Morocco 2026 is keen to showcase its rich history, culture and tradition.

It wants to use some of the country's most iconic settings as Fan Fests, envisioning: 15,000 fans in Place Jemaa el Fna, the square situated a stone's throw from the Marrakech souks that comes alive in the evening with street dancers and snake charmers; 28,500 people at Place Boujloud, a UNESCO heritage site that serves as the main entrance to the Fez medina; or 79,500 packed onto the banks of Bassin de l'Agdal, a large artificial reservoir in Meknes, built in the 18th century.

 

The colour and vibrancy of Marrakech's Place Jemaa el Fna, a proposed World Cup Fan Fest site

Commercial

Morocco 2026’s biggest selling point, it believes, is its geography, with all host cities located within a 550-km radius of Casablanca, providing short travel times for players, officials and fans.

It has also championed “outstanding marketing and media potential” - a claim more often associated with the North America bid - principally through media rights.

While the bid team accepts it cannot compete with North America in terms of gate receipts, it is confident its ideal time zone for European audiences (the same as the UK) will swell Fifa's broadcast revenues. While media rights deals are already in place for 2026 in North America, South America and the Middle East and North Africa, lucrative European and Asian markets are yet to be sold.


Morocco 2026 is confident its ideal time zone for European audiences (the same as the UK) will swell Fifa's broadcast revenues. 

An in-depth report conducted over the past few months by international consulting firm Roland Berger has estimated that a 2026 World Cup in Morocco would generate total revenues of $7.2 billion, and a profit to Fifa of around $5 billion, with those calculations largely in line with Fifa’s own estimates, released following the decision to expand the tournament to 48 nations from 2026.

The rival United 2026 bid has estimated around $14 billion in revenues, made up of over $5 billion in media rights revenues, more than $4 billion in ticket sales and hospitality, and some $3.6 billion in sponsorship and licensing.

The bottom line for Fifa would be a profit of nearly $11 billion from the United bid - a figure of which the Morocco bid is highly sceptical.

El Amrani told Sportcal earlier this month: “We can guarantee the figures we provide… In terms of what we are providing, the proposal is rock-solid figures, and they are rock-solid figures without any willingness to slightly make any adjustment to make them look better, because it doesn’t serve our purpose.”

He continued: “So we stick to the figures we have that came out of a study that took several months to put into place, with not only Fifa figures, but also the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, expert forecasters and so on.”

Politics

Fifa president Gianni Infantino is widely believed to favour the United 2026 bid. Why? Well Fifa’s reputation, particularly in the eyes of blue-chip brands, has taken a battering this decade and a showpiece tournament in the world’s biggest commercial playground would be an appealing calling card.

However, there are other issues at play.

That one-hour lull between the first and second ballot of the Fifa presidential election on 26 February, 2016 in Zurich springs to mind: the sight of Sunil Gulati, then president of US Soccer, and to date a member of the ruling Fifa council, working the floor, lobbying for Infantino to get the necessary votes to beat Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khali, the favourite.

What was promised in clandestine meetings between Infantino and Gulati?

As Gulati stated in the immediate aftermath of Infantino’s victory: “We have a candidate [Infantino] that we’re supportive of, that we get along very well with, that understands the nuances of the American market. I think it’s a little early to talk about [World Cup] 2026, but you can rest assured that it got brought up in some of the discussions we’ve had over the last couple of days.”

There’s also the extra $295 million that Fifa knows it will bank from USA World Cup rights-holders Fox, the national television network, and Telemundo, the Comcast-owned Spanish-language broadcaster, should the United 2026 bid win out.

So is that why, as sources close to the Morocco bid tell me, “the goalposts have been moved” in the final few months of this race?

Is Morocco causing headaches for the Fifa hierarchy?

The North African country believes its bid has been scrutinised far more than the United 2026 one, with an extra visit to Morocco by Fifa officials having taken place.

Just two days before the taskforce first arrived in Morocco in April, it demanded that the city of Tetouan was added to the schedule, while changes to the bid regulations came just 48 hours before final versions were due to be submitted in March.

The revised rules stated that host cities must have a population of 250,000 or more (the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate falls short of that total). 

A change that particularly raised eyebrows was the maximum drive between a host city and the nearest airport being reduced to 90 minutes (the journey between El Jadida on Morocco’s west coast to the nearest airport, Casablanca, had been estimated at 91 minutes).

Artist's impression of the Grand Stade de Casablanca - the proposed venue for the Fifa 2026 World Cup opening match and final 

El Amrani has also admitted to being "surprised" when he was told the taskforce would be scoring each bid out of five on a range of criteria, and that any score of less than two in four key areas, namely accommodation, stadiums, transport and training sites, would automatically disqualify the bid.

Further, the Moroccan bid believes Fifa should have been more damning in its criticism of Donald Trump, after the US president hinted he would be prepared to withdraw political and financial support to those nations that voted for Morocco over the joint USA-Canada-Mexico bid.

Trump wrote on Twitter: “The US has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the US bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

In response, Fifa said only: "As a general rule, we cannot comment on specific statements in connection with the bidding process. We can only refer to the Fifa regulations for the selection of the venue for the final competition of the 2026 Fifa World Cup, and in particular to the bid rules of conduct incorporated therein.”

The Fifa rules also instruct member associations to reject "any attempt to be influenced in relation to their function and obligations."

El Amrani’s on the record reaction was, as you’d imagine, considered: “My focus is on defending the values of the Moroccan bid, its values, its concept. But in relation to political interference, I think the rules are pretty clear. Fifa has to implement them. The bidders have to respect them.”

United 2026 has repeatedly (wisely) sought to play down the potential effects of resentment in many parts of the world to the controversial policies and views of Trump.

The president's proposed wall on the USA-Mexico border, travel restrictions on certain Muslim-majority countries, his opposition to the Paris climate agreement and relocating the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem have proved deeply unpopular abroad.

In January, he made highly inflammatory comments about immigrants from African countries, as well as Concacaf member nations Haiti and El Salvador.

Hardly a plea for votes.

Over lunch at the luxury Hotel Club Le Mirage in Tangier, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I ask El Amrani to reflect on the bid race since he came on board.

Has it been a fair battle?

He allows himself a wry smile. A puff of the cheeks later, he replies: “I will be able to tell you that at the end of May [when the taskforce report is published] and then maybe on 13 June. We hope it is a fair process. That is what we wish for.”

“Inshallah,” comes a voice from the entourage.

Sportcal