Rabat – As national federations convene for the 68th FIFA Congress, politics and geostrategic calculations are quickly transforming the sporting experience into an exercise of usurpation and heavy politicking.
Not satisfied with casting its own ballot for the United Bid, the US-led North American trio, Saudi Arabia is now using its financial resources and spiritual authority to convince some other Muslim-majority countries to back North America at the expense of Morocco 2026.
What was started as a competition between two bids promising to serve the interests of the game and fans has become a venue for permanent extortion and backstage diplomatic tricks, exposing the toxic politicization of sport.
No easy victory in sight
If anything, none of the two bids will have it easy today.
Whereas Latin American federations decided that they did not have time to listen to Morocco’s arguments on June 11 and 12, the African bloc, in its crushing majority, showed almost the same disinterest during the North American presentation on June 12.
African federations mildly and “politely” applauded the United (North American) bid after its presentation, according to the Associated Press. The American outlet underlined that the show was just a formal display of respect, as many African federations seemed already resolved to favor the continent’s representative.
Before the presentation, CAF president Ahmad Ahmad put in final efforts to rally a considerable African bloc in favor of Morocco, urging Africa to “show cohesion.”
“There is a moral obligation to remain within our family,” Ahmad declared, conceding however that “of course it is an individual choice.”
Europe for its part seemed divided. There is no bloc voting in sight, although French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet declared he is “confident that half of UEFA” will vote in Morocco’s favor.
Saudi Arabia’s never ending United 2026 lobbying
“This feels like being stabbed in your back by a brother,” some diplomatic sources have been quoted as saying, referring to news that the Gulf king actively lobbied for the United bid on June 11 and 12. The goal was to convert many Muslim countries to commit to the North American bid.
Bristling with Riyadh’s intense efforts to undermine the Moroccan bid in Muslim circles, some Moroccan officials have explained that although the Saudis are entitled to their decision to endorse the United bid, it is much less comprehensible that “a fellow brother” could go to such lengths to turn other Muslim countries against a bid representing shared values and traditions.
“The muscular Saudi lobbying” has already succeeded in changing the position of about ten national federations who were either wavering or considering a Morocco 2026 vote at the FIFA congress to be held within few hours, others reported.
Arabophone outlet Goud, for example, quoted Moroccan diplomatic sources and representatives in Moscow as saying that Saudi lobbying for the North American bid was far more significant than Canada’s entire campaigning efforts.
Tension between Saudi Arabia and Morocco
Though Riyadh is known for being America’s most strategic ally in the Muslim world, it is now a known secret that that the Gulf country’s anti-Morocco 2026 agenda has much to do with Rabat’s position in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is understood that Saudi Arabia is frustrated with Rabat’s “objective neutrality” in the Gulf crisis.
Others have also pointed out Morocco’s reluctance to send troops to Yemen despite numerous requests from Saudi authorities. As a result, they argue, Riyadh has chosen to vent its frustration on the North African’s dream to host the footballing world’s most prestigious tournament.
On social media, the outrage caused by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation’s last-minute intrusion into the pre-voting procedures cannot be overstated. Many Moroccans appeared to have had it with the Saudis’ disregard for their “national cause.” Some went as far as asking Moroccan authorities to review the country’s diplomacy towards a “circumstantial ally.”
“It is just a matter of time. Rabat is taking its time to know the intention and priorities of the new Saudi authorities. In the end, Morocco’s national interests will always prevail,” a source at the foreign affairs ministry said under conditions of anonymity.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are believed to be among the ten Muslim countries whose change of heart is said to have come about as a result of Saudi Arabia’s pro-United 2026 lobbying. And since FIFA will make public the vote of each national federation, it remains to be seen the full extent of the Saudi damage to Morocco 2026.