Morocco may not have voted in CAF’s poll choosing the host of African football’s biggest tournament in 2019, but it reportedly played a massive “political” role in defining the rules of the voting process.
Rabat – South Africa’s football governing body, SAFA, has expressed disappointment over the voting process for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN), calling the vote “unfair” and “unprocedural.”
On November 30, CAF stripped Cameroon of the CAN 2019 hosting rights, pointing to “serious delays” in completing the required infrastructure and security concerns in the proximity of two planned venues.
CAF immediately called for tenders to replace Cameroon. And while many had expected Morocco to be part of the contest, the North African country chose not to run, leaving Egypt and South Africa as the only two last-minute contenders.
“Without being arrogant, there is no other country on this continent that can display the facilities, infrastructure, and capacity that we have,” Russell Paul, SAFA’s chair, said right after the vote on January 8 in Dakar. Paul went on to lament that influence-peddling and politics played more of a role than sports-related criteria.
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According to the South African official, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the governing body of African football, held the vote 24 hours earlier than expected without informing the South African delegation of the change in schedule. The episode reinforced SAFA’s suspicions that politics, not football-related technical matters, influenced the voting.
“There was no inspection team. There was never an inspection team that arrived in South Africa‚ or that requested to come to South Africa. So‚ that gives an indication of: on what basis did they evaluate‚ by their own procedures? There was a company hired to evaluate. That company also did not send an inspection team…. The other aspect is that we don’t know‚ up until now‚ the reason for the move [of the vote] from the 9th to the 8th.”
As criticism hit CAF after the vote, with many pointing the body’s favoritism toward Morocco, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad responded earlier last week. Without referring to voting or South Africa’s accusations, the Malagasy admitted his “love” and “admiration” for Morocco.
“I really like this country,” Ahmad said of the Maghreb country, explaining that Rabat’s South-South agenda and its genuine interest in advancing African football should inspire other African governments.
For critics, Morocco refrained from bidding because a Moroccan victory would have confirmed rumors about CAF supporting Rabat. Instead, Rabat reportedly threw its weight behind Cairo, coordinating with Egypt to prevent a successful South African bid.
A letter SAFA sent to CAF after the vote complained that South Africa’s delegation was preparing to fly to Dakar “to make a bidding presentation” about the country’s technical merits, only to learn that the schedule had changed and Egypt’s delegation was already in Senegal.
Of the 17 CAF executive officials who decided on the fate of CAN 2019, only one voted for South Africa’s bid. With 16-1 in favor of Egypt, SAFA’s suspicions grew. Without naming Morocco, SAFA officials hinted late last week that Rabat coordinated with CAF and Egypt.
‘Punishing’ South Africa
Meanwhile, CAF has not entirely dismissed South Africa’s accusations.
While the body has not directly addressed SAFA’s suspicions, a number of CAF sources who spoke to news outlets days after the Dakar episode hinted at the possibility of “punishment.” While the Morocco-Egypt coordination has not been proven, a CAF official told AFP that the result of the January 8 vote was more about “punishing South Africa for not voting for Morocco 2026.”
In June 2018, Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup registered an overwhelming defeat at the hands of the North American bid (the US, Canada, and Mexico). Despite CAF’s incessant calls that “all African countries vote for Morocco,” South Africa was among the handful of African countries that chose to vote for the North American bid.
In addition to ditching Morocco’s bid, however, Pretoria even tried to convince a number of other African countries—including Namibia—to vote for the North American trio.
“South Africa’s choice to vote for the US, especially after President Trump called the continent ‘shithole’, was considered [within CAF] as anti-African,” the CAF source said.
“We knew that Egypt was the favorite, but we did not expect such difference in votes,” the source added.
While CAF sources and concerned countries’ officials are refraining from naming names at this point, the tussle between Pretoria and Rabat continues to be felt far from football stadiums.
Recently voted as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council, South Africa has announced that it plans to use its two-year mandate to “support Western Sahara’s rights to self-determination.”
“The struggle of the Sahrawi people for freedom and independence is our struggle,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech last week.