Caf members face testing moment in Moscow to bring World Cup back to Africa

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Threats and jibes have characterised the brutal contest between Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup

Wednesday’s ballot at the 68th Fifa Congress in Moscow will see 207 voters deciding whether a second World Cup will be held on African soil, or if it will return to North America where the United States and Mexico have each hosted the tournament before.

Both bidders will be afforded 15 minutes each for final presentations to Congress, starting with the United bid, before the electronic voting opens with a simple 50 percent majority needed for a winner to be declared.

But the run-up to the vote has been an absorbing affair which reached a new high two months ago when United Sates President Donald Trump issued a thinly-veiled threat to countries that do not support the North Americans.

This is despite Fifa rules prohibiting governments from interfering with member associations’ decisions.

The intrigue then swelled on Monday when Morocco Football Federation president Fouzi Lekjaa ridiculed the North Americans’ forecast of $14.3 billion in revenue if they land hosting rights.

“There is lots of uncertainty,” Lekjaa was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

“That doesn’t correspond either to historical facts or future extrapolation, it’s an exercise that goes beyond that.”

Fifa desperately need the money and the United bid is anchored on an enormous revenue projection, with the world football governing body predicted to rack in $11 billion in profit from that.

This is against Morocco’s $7.2 billion revenue estimation.

After Trump threatened reprisal on those who reject the United bid, there have been concerns of coercive strategy and that non-footballing factors could sway some voters.

Fifa will publish each voter’s choice soon after the poll and fear of retribution could influence countries that do not want to be found on the opposite page with the United States.

But United States Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro played down the hand of politics manipulating part of the electorate in their favour.

“We believe strongly that this decision will be made on its merits,” AFP reported Corderio as saying.

“This is not geopolitics, we’re talking about football and what is fundamentally, at the end of the day, the best interest of football and our footballing community… We’ve had no backlash.”

While Caf appear to have managed to convince the bulk of its members to gang-up for Morocco, the Cosafa region has however been infiltrated by the North Americans with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia publicly pronouncing their support for the United bid.

Zimbabwe, who diplomatically are in the process of adjusting their foreign policy, especially mending relations with the United States and its allies after years of isolation, are vulnerable in this vote with no other option but to sing in the North Americans’ corner.

Avoiding crossing paths with the United States also seem to have influenced South Africa and Namibia’s decisions to rebuff Morocco.

Liberia from West Africa, due to political ties with the United States, has also snubbed Morocco but however, the United bid had to endure some unreceptive attitude during their presentation at a Caf meeting in Moscow on Monday.

As has been in his previous calls, Caf president Ahmad stressed the need for his members to vote for their own.

“There is an obligation to remain within our family. But of course it is an individual choice,” Ahmad said.

Both bidders then made final presentations to Uefa members on Tuesday.

Influential countries like Spain, France, Germany and Russia have warmed up to the idea of a “European” World Cup in Africa.

Morocco’s Greenwich Mean Time zone is appealing to European television audiences and sponsors, and the country’s proximity to Europe would also be convenient to the travelling fans.

Also short travels between venues is attractive for Morocco against long-haul flights and cross-border travelling between three North American countries.

However, the Fifa bid evaluation Task Force marked the United bid as far outweighing their rivals who had some high risks areas especially in infrastructure needed to host an expanded 48-team tournament.

Having vainly attempted to host the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 tournaments, Morocco again face the United States who beat them to the 1994 rights.

Previously, the awarding of hosting rights fell in the hands of the Fifa executive committee but the controversial awarding of hosting rights Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 prompted a change in procedure where all Fifa members vote.

Joining the Morocco and United bid on the ballot on Wednesday would be another option of “None of the Bids - Reopen Bidding Process.”

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In the unlikely event that this option gains majority vote, the bidding process would be reopened but without the current bidders.

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