Doha, Qatar –
The idea that Morocco could co-host the 2030 World Cup with close neighbors Spain and Portugal seemed a little crazy when it was floated four years ago.
It seems less crazy now.
Morocco eliminated Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds to become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, thereby gaining status in FIFA and the trust of fans.
A well-established national team has a longer-term future. Significant recruitment from the Moroccan diaspora from Europe, as well as home-grown players developed at a world-class training center near Rabat.
Although there are no proposals to create the first transcontinental World Cup, the president of the Moroccan FA believes in the concept.
“We want the organization to be shared between the African continent and the European continent,” Fouzi Lekjaa told The Associated Press in an interview at the team hotel this week.
“To show the world that the relationship between Africa and Europe is not just about illegal immigration and fighting illegal immigration,” Lakja said. “Rather, it’s a relationship where civilizations can meet, cultures can meet.”
Morocco and Spain are so geographically close — “We are only 14 kilometers (less than 10 miles) apart,” Lekjaa points out — that is a core attraction of any joint bid, as it was in 2018.
So did the support of King Mohammed VI, who immediately called for a re-bid for the 2026 World Cup when Morocco lost the 2026 World Cup bid to the favored United States-Canada-Mexico plan. On the eve of the last World Cup, the FIFA member confederations held their latest vote in Moscow on Morocco’s failed bid by 134 votes to 65.
What has changed since 2018?
Lekjaa, the government minister responsible for the state budget, now has greater influence at FIFA since joining it last year as Africa’s elected representative on its governing council. He is apparently on good terms with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, as taking a government job used to be a hurdle for candidates to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
“Now we seek to be a key player at the international level of FIFA,” admits Lekjaa.
What seemed possible in football politics has also changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with continental championships postponed and hosts and scheduled dates shifted at short notice.
European soccer body UEFA flatly opposed a joint bid with another continent in 2018.
Still, Europe and Africa have a combined 109 of FIFA’s 211 voting members, and Ukraine’s entry into the Spanish-Portuguese bid in October is clearly politically involved.
FIFA has yet to set a timetable and bid rules for a decision on the expected hosting rights of the 2030 World Cup in 2024.
Infantino also held talks with political leaders, fueling speculation about an unlikely three-continental bid backed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Greece. In contrast, combining Spain, Portugal and Morocco seems more logical.
2030 is the 100th anniversary of the World Cup. Uruguay, the original host in 1930, jointly bid with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. South American soccer body CONMEBOL has only 10 votes in FIFA.
Morocco is also building a presence in African football and has won global admirers for the $65 million Mohammed VI Football Center, a training ground for players, coaches, referees and officials.
“Morocco’s policies make us an important partner for all African countries. We exist in partnerships in money and business as well as sports,” Lekjaa said.
Since 2014, under his leadership, the Moroccan Football Association has worked hard to professionalize club management, build more natural grass pitches, and create a regional youth training base.
Walid Regragui’s Casablanca side Wydad won the African Champions League in May thanks to this strategy.
Three months later, Regraj was named head coach of the Moroccan national team, and Lekja stressed that the squad that beat Portugal on Saturday had seven players from the Moroccan club.
“European teams have no reason to be better than us,” Lakeja said. “They’re better than us right now because they work in a professional way and that’s what we’re after.”