Lessons from Morocco's unsuccessful bid to host the 2026 World Cup

Wednesday March 18 2020

The World Cup is in full swing now in Russia, with much more excitement than most had expected. African teams have had mixed performances, but more on that later. Tuesday’s matches that saw Nigeria eliminated also saw the tournament’s 100th goal and the first goal-less match after 37 straight games with goals, some as many as seven. Almost every match so far has seen drama in the final seconds, with video-assisted referees often playing a controversial part.

One of the five African teams, Morocco, formally exited the tournament on Monday, with two losses and one draw. But the day before the tournament started, Morocco was in another race, that for the rights to host the 2026 World Cup. The member states of Fifa cast 134 votes in favour of a joint bid by the USA, Canada and Mexico over Morocco’s, which got 65 votes. Incidentally, Kenya voted for Morocco, but not all African countries did, for other reasons. Fifa then released a detailed evaluation report of the factors that guided the decision, extensively comparing the logistics and commercial reasons that persuaded members as they compared the two bids.


Morocco’s unsuccessful bid is an eye-opener for any African country that wants to stage another global sports tournament. Fifa teams evaluated the 14 stadium sites in 12 cities that Morocco offered, visiting several of them in April. While casual fans may see hosting World Cups only in terms of stadiums, Fifa scored the bids based on the country’s readiness to host 48 different teams, fans, and World Cup officials and bidders were asked to put forward 72 potential team base camps and 48 venues that paired hotels and training sites. Besides match stadiums, they were also scored based on airport capacity, local travel infrastructure, availability of quality hotels, sports training centres, tax agreements, and medical care, among other criteria.

Fifa expects that only a tiny minority of World Cup viewers get to watch the matches live at the stadiums, so bidders were asked to demonstrate their plans for an International Broadcast Centre and also provide a minimum of 4,000 hotel rooms for the broadcasters who will generate the media content consumed by billions of fans around the world.

Morocco also pledged to convert 14,000 rooms at 42 university residences into three-star and four-star hotels, committing at least $10,000 per room, and also to provide extra accommodation on cruise ships in their ports such as the Tanger-Med port, which handled three million visitors in 2017. Morocco has high-speed trains and highways between its cities and they planned to upgrade other airports to complement Casablanca and Marrakesh and process up to 40 million passengers. But evaluators determined that this was below the Fifa airport threshold of 60 million. Overall, according to the report, it would have cost Fifa $1.87 billion to stage the expanded 48-team tournament, while the US one would have cost $2.16 billion.


In terms of revenue, the 2026 World Cup in the US, which will feature 50 percent more nations and 25 percent more matches than the ongoing one in Russia, is expected to generate $1.8 billion from ticket sales, $1.3 billion from hospitality, and overall revenue of $14 billion from increased commercial and broadcast partners. Morocco’s bid was expected to generate around half of that, with $785 million coming from ticket sales, and this was projected based on the lower purchasing power and current domestic attendance of matches. Fifa also cited accommodation readiness as another challenge for Morocco’s bid.

Back to the African teams playing in Russia. I can’t endorse any sport-betting picks, but Goldman Sachs ran 200,000 artificial intelligence simulations of the 2018 World Cup before it started. They predicted that no African team or hosts Russia would make it to the second round. And losing in the semi-finals would be Portugal and France, and the eventual winner would be Brazil over Germany. Germany was knocked out of the tournament. Enjoy the rest of it.

Twitter: @bankelele