Morocco is bidding to become the second African team to ever host the soccer World Cup in 2026—but Donald Trump stands in the way.
The north African country’s bid is currently rivaled by a joint one from the United States, Mexico and Canada. In trying to sway support for the joint bid, US president Trump is doing away with the charm and persuasion which most bid campaigns adopt to win support. Instead, Trump is dangling a carrot and a stick: he’s effectively threatened to cut aid and other forms of support to countries that oppose the joint North American bid.
The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2018
In response to Trump’s rhetoric, FIFA, the global soccer governing body, has referenced its bid rules of conduct which prohibit activities that can have undue influence on the bidding process. But that has had little effect. Days after FIFA’s statement, during a joint press conference with Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari at the White House, Trump repeated his veiled threat. “We will be watching very closely,” he said about how African countries’ support for the bid.
South Africa is still the only African country to have hosted the world’s most popular sporting event. It successfully held the event in 2010.
There’s some consolation for Morocco though as Trump’s tactic has been tried before but it’s not necessarily worked. Last December, Trump’s administration threatened countries to back its decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during a UN vote but the move failed. Already, Morocco’s bid has gained support from Russia, France and Belgium and is likely to win more support from Africa’s 56 federations which make up the largest voting bloc in FIFA.
Trump’s stepped up rhetoric comes only weeks before the June 13 FIFA Congress during which national football federations will pick the host of the 2026 World Cup. The selection process is a simple election which sees each of FIFA’s 207 member countries receive a vote each—unlike international organizations where the world’s most powerful countries have larger clout and, sometimes, veto power. Put another way, within FIFA, the American soccer federation has as much power as the Sierra Leonean federation during elections.
Ultimately however, beyond Trump’s threats, both bids will likely scrutinized, more than ever, on the merit of their sports and general infrastructure. That’s because, the 2026 soccer World Cup will feature 48 teams—16 teams more than it has featured since 1998. As such, host nations will see a total of 80 matches (up from 64) played even though the tournament will still be completed in 32 days. Morocco is hoping to sway votes with a promise of investing $16 billion on infrastructure, including building or refurbishing 14 stadiums while the North American bid is mainly anchored on the strength of America’s sports facilities.
If Trump’s threats are taken seriously, Morocco’s faces losing its fifth World Cup bid after previous failures in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010. But it has since had some practice with hosting FIFA soccer events. In 2013 and 2014, Morocco successfully hosted FIFA Club World Cup—an annual tournament between champions of continental club competitions.