North America vs North Africa: Duo submit 2026 World Cup bids
By Jonathan Rest
North America and Morocco today submitted bid books outlining their plans to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup, which soccer's governing body has promised will be awarded in a transparent manner with not "even one iota of doubt," following the controversy over the dual award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments nearly eight years ago.
The commercial powerhouse of USA-Canada-Mexico is widely regarded as the favourite to land the tournament at the Fifa Congress in Moscow on 13 June, but with all member associations able to vote on the outcome - in comparison to the 22 executive committee members that awarded the preceding events to Russia and Qatar - the Morocco camp is increasingly confident off pulling of a surprise, buoyed no doubt by resentment in many parts of the world to the policies and views of controversial US president Donald Trump.
Trump, even if he wins re-election in 2020, would not be in office come the World Cup kick-off, and United 2026 will hope the Fifa voters stick to the bare facts of the bid book.
This will be the first World Cup with 48 nations - up from 32 at present - and that brings logistical challenges, particularly for Morocco, a fifth-time bidder, which is proposing to build seven new stadia - six with capacities of at least 45,000 and a long-planned 100,000 venue in Casablanca, the country’s largest city. Five other venues meeting Fifa requirements already exist.
The stadiums will be located in 12 cities - Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rabat, Fez, Tangier, Nador, Meknes, El Jadida, Agadir, Ouarzazate, Oujda and Tetouan. Projects are already under way in the latter two cities.
Construction and renovation of new and existing venues is expected to cost upwards of $1 billion.
A favourite line of John Kristick, executive director of United 2026, is: “Our legacy is already in the ground, working, not on the drawing board giving our host cities and Fifa a level of certainty not seen in previous Fifa World Cups and allowing us to focus hosting the best event for the prosperity of Fifa.”
The North American bid book includes 23 prospective host cities, of which Fifa is expected to choose 16 to stage matches if the bid is successful.
There are three cities each from Mexico (Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City) and Canada (Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal) and the two countries are envisioned to stage 10 matches each of the 80 in total.
The shortlisted US cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington.
The use of NFL American football venues will ensure average capacity of 68,000, ensuring a ticketing revenue boon.
Chicago and Vancouver would have made the cut, but they failed to get the necessary backing of their city councils, while some US cities that were left off the list have hit out at the demands of Fifa.
Minneapolis' bid team said: “We were requesting flexibility on the financial liability caps and/or stronger estimates on anticipated costs associated with the events, including the possibility of hosting six games and a Fan Fest that could last for up to one month.”
Tom Sadler, president of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, added: “Fifa was not able to provide specific details on major unknowns that could result in a major financial burden to our cities.”
Infrastructure will account for 70 per cent of the scoring, and commercial elements the remaining 30 per cent in the evaluation process that will help determine the host of the World Cup, Fifa revealed last year.
On the commercial side, estimated revenue from the sale of media and marketing rights, estimated revenue from the sale of tickets and hospitality packages and predicted organising costs will all have an equal weighting of 10 per cent.
As such the appeal of the North America bid is strong.
Sunil Gulati, the former president of US Soccer, and bid committee board member, said: “We believe between the size of stadiums, which obviously impacts attendance, the level of hospitality available at stadiums that affects revenue and the commercial opportunities that will be available to Fifa, this will be by far the most successful financial World Cup and this is probably a pretty good time for that to happen for Fifa.”
Yet Morocco's location and time zone, the same as the UK, cannot be ignored.
In a recent interview with AP, Fifa's chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc'h highlighted “the size and the magnitude” of the North American bid that would “have some commercial attraction," but noted how Morocco is in “the perfect time zone for Europe and Asia” TV audiences.
He added: “There are other ways to generate revenues and the time zone in Morocco could help us.”
Following the delivery of the bid books, a five-man task force will make inspection visits, then grade and score the bids. It could recommend one of the bids is excluded if it does not meet the requirements.
If both bids pass the test, the selection of the 2026 World Cup host will be made by the full Fifa membership in Moscow on the eve of this year's World Cup in Russia. This follows a change to the process brought about by allegations of wrongdoing in the award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, for which legal investigations linger on.
As Fifa stated in November: "The process to select the host - or hosts - of the first 48-team Fifa World Cup must not be open to even one iota of doubt. It is FIFA's responsibility towards the world of football to conduct these bidding and selection procedures in an ethical and transparent, objective and balanced way.
"By the time we announce who will host the 2026 Fifa World Cup, every football fan around the globe should be able to know why that choice has been made. For that, FIFA has reviewed and radically enhanced the mechanisms for selecting the venue of our showpiece event. The process is as objective and transparent as it can get."
Analysis of the two 2026 Fifa World Cup bidders will appear in the next issue of Sportcal Insight, available next month.