Morocco is set to join Spain and Portugal in a bid to host the FIFA 2030 Men’s World Cup, apparently replacing Ukraine in a three-way alliance with the two European nations.
Ukraine said it would team up with Spain and Portugal in a joint bid last October, but Morocco’s announcement suggests it will no longer be part of the process.
Morocco’s sport minister Chakib Benmoussa unveiled details of the North African nation’s bid, citing a letter from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.
“I would like to announce that the Kingdom of Morocco has decided, together with Spain and Portugal, to present a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup,” he read from the letter, according to Reuters.
Benmoussa called the bid “unprecedented in football history.”
It will “bring together Africa and Europe, the northern and southern Mediterranean, and the African, Arab and Euro-Mediterranean worlds,” he said. “It will also bring out the best in all of us – in effect a combination of genius, creativity, experience and means.”
The new alliance adds another transcontinental bid to the process, alongside a three-way deal between Greece, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a separate joint bid from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile.
Countries teaming up to hold the World Cup is not unprecedented, with Canada, America and Mexico due to co-host the World Cup in 2026. Japan also collaborated with South Korea in staging the 2002 chapter.
Morocco’s announcement comes on the heels of its historic performance at the 2022 World Cup.
The Royal Moroccan Kingdom is committed to taking part in the 2030 bid more than four years ago, immediately after losing the vote for the 2026 tournament. It was in talks with the Iberian nations for a while but had never been officially included in the bid.
In February this year, Morocco hosted FIFA’s Club World Cup.
The 2030 World Cup hosts are expected to be picked in September 2024. The co-hosting bids from South America and Europe have been the expected favourites.
What has changed since 2018
This marks Morocco’s sixth attempt to host the competition. The North African country has entered the bid every time that it was eligible since 1994.
The idea that Morocco could co-host the 2030 World Cup with near-neighbors Spain and Portugal seemed a bit crazy when it was floated four years ago. It doesn’t seem so crazy now.
Morocco has gained status inside FIFA and credibility with fans by eliminating Spain and then Portugal in knockout games to be the first African team to advance to a World Cup semifinals.
“We wanted this organization to be shared between the African continent and the European continent,” Fouzi Lekjaa told The Associated Press in an interview.
“In order to show the world that the relationship between Africa and Europe is not only the relationship of illegal immigration and the fight against it,” Lekjaa said. “Rather, it is a relationship in which civilizations can meet and cultures meet.”
That Morocco and Spain are so geographically close — “We are only 14 kilometers (less than 10 miles) away” Lekjaa noted — is the core appeal of any joint bid as it was in 2018.
So is the support of King Mohammed VI who immediately asked for a renewed World Cup bid when Morocco lost the 2026 tournament hosting vote to the heavily favoured United States-Canada-Mexico plan. The latest in a streak of losing Morocco bids was a 134-65 vote by FIFA member federations in Moscow in 2018.
Lekjaa, a government minister in charge of the state budget, now has more influence at FIFA as an African elected delegate on its ruling Council since joining. He is clearly in good graces with FIFA president Gianni Infantino given that holding a government job was once a barrier to candidates in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
“Now we seek to be a key player in the international dimension within FIFA,” Lekjaa acknowledged.
What seems possible in football politics also changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with continental championships postponed plus hosts and scheduled dates changed at short notice.
European football body UEFA was flatly opposed in 2018 to jointly bidding with another continent.
Still, Europe and Africa combine to have 109 of the 211 FIFA voting members and there was clear politics involved in Ukraine joining the Spain-Portugal bid in October.
Infantino also had talks with political leaders that fueled speculation of an unlikely three-continent bid anchored by Saudi Arabia and also including Egypt and Greece. By comparison, uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco looks more logical.
The 100-year anniversary of the World Cup is in 2030, and the original 1930 host, Uruguay, is jointly bidding for it with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. The South American soccer body CONMEBOL has just 10 votes at FIFA.
Morocco is also building influence in African soccer and winning admirers globally for the $65 million (40 billion FCFA) Mohammed VI Football Center, which is a training base for players, coaches, referees and officials.
“Morocco’s policy has made us an important partner for all African countries. We are present in partnerships in money and business, and also in sports,” Lekjaa said.
Under his leadership since 2014, the Moroccan federation tried to professionalize management at its clubs, install more natural grass pitches and create regional youth training bases.
Casablanca-based team Wydad, coached by Walid Regragui back then, benefitted from this strategy, winning Africa’s Champions League in May 2022.
Regragui was installed as the coach of Morocco’s national team three months later, with Lekjaa emphasizing that the national team that beat Portugal in the World Cup featured seven players from Moroccan clubs.
“There is no reason for European teams to be better than us,” Lekjaa said. “They are now better than us because they work in professional ways, and this is what we seek.”
“I think this bid by the Iberian Peninsula with Morocco is very positive,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a joint news conference with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez on the Spanish island of Lanzarote.
“It sends an important message to the entire world and especially Europe and Africa, since it says that we are two neighbouring continents, two continents that want to work together,” he added.
“It is the first time that a joint bid is presented from both sides of the Mediterranean, a bid between Africa and Europe. I think this can only help to unite that which can’t be separated.”
Sanchez, meanwhile, said Morocco joining the bid “places Spain and Portugal’s joint candidacy in better shape to win the race.”
The agreement over the World Cup bid comes after a rocky period in relations between the governments of Spain and Morocco. Sánchez has twice visited Rabat to mend ties with Morocco after their falling out in 2021 and subsequent making up over the disputed Western Sahara region.
How Morocco stands to gain from hosting an inaugural World Cup event
The World Cup is a national priority for our government,” said Moulay Hafid Elalamy, candidature chairman for Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid, prior to its failure in June last year. So it would seem. Morocco holds the undesirable title of most World Cup bids without success. Its most recent bid missed out by a large margin to the triumvirate of Canada, Mexico and the US, perhaps causing some to question why Morocco keeps bothering with what appears a futile pursuit.
This was the fifth time the Atlas Lions had been defeated. The 1994 edition was their first World Cup rodeo, when they lost to the US by a mere three votes. Following this slim defeat, they entered the 1998 process, in which they were pitted against England, Switzerland, Germany, and France. After a few withdrawals, only Morocco and France remained, but again the Moroccans lost, this time by 12 votes to seven.
The process for the 2010 World Cup was arguably their best shot at a World Cup, with the rotation system in place to ensure the World Cup took place in Africa. After Nigeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya’s bids faltered, Morocco and South Africa were the only two left. The latter came out on top, winning 14 votes to 10. Regardless, South Africa hosted the inaugural African World Cup.
Despite these disappointments, Morocco pitched another bid for the 2026 World Cup. Their bid focussed on Moroccan passion for football, the accessibility of a schedule close to European time zones, and the conveniently compact geolocation of potential match venues. The United bid, crucially, was more infrastructurally sound and offered an estimated windfall of $14bn (8,5 trillion FCFA) for FIFA, $2bn (1,2 trillion FCFA) more than the Moroccan bid. The North Africans’ bid was handily defeated – 134 votes to 65.
However, their fervour for World Cup fever is showing no signs of slackening, as a bid for the 2030 tournament is already being planned, by order of King Mohammed VI. Morocco’s king, it would seem, is eager to welcome the Jules Rimet to Morocco. Does the monarch simply have a penchant for football or more political motives?
Throughout his reign, Mohammed VI has enacted a number of schemes in order to revamp sport throughout Morocco. Six Mohammed VI football academies have been built since 2010. No less than 832 social and sport community complexes are to be constructed over the next few years. The monarch certainly recognises the usefulness of sport as a regenerative tool domestically.
Within the 2026 bid itself, the tournament is portrayed as a potential catalyst for economic and cultural change: “The Morocco 2026 bid is also offering an opportunity to highlight lesser-known aspects of a country on a journey of significant change. Morocco has initiated major political, economic and social reforms, responding to developments within an unstable international climate, with the aim of harnessing economic potential and meeting the changing aspirations of a younger generation.”
Hosting a World Cup offers opportunity, above all else. Infrastructural, international, domestic, reputational, political, economic. It’s an opportunity to address numerous aims in one fell swoop. The World Cup host has a chance to ‘image-leverage’, a term coined by academic Jonathan Grix, which essentially means to improve one’s image in the global spotlight by challenging stereotypes and negative opinions. During almost every major tournament, the host nation will attempt to espouse a certain image of itself.
The tournament also offers an opportunity for infrastructural development. In their 2026 bid, the Moroccan football federation planned to spend $19.4bn (12 trillion FCFA) and build nine stadiums nationwide, including a 93,000-seater behemoth in Casablanca to host the final. World Cups also offer an opportunity to improve transport infrastructure in the host nation; roads, airports, and public transport links are all necessary for successful hosting, and thus tend to compose a sizeable part of a tournament’s proposed budget. As part of Morocco’s 2026 bid, for example, over $1bn (612 billion FCFA) of road developments were proposed.
The Moroccan 2026 bid cites national unity and cohesion as a significant reason for its bid. Described as a “land where football passions run through every vein”, the national togetherness incurred by a World Cup would be reminiscent of that felt throughout Morocco’s performance at the 2022 tournament, where they reached the semifinal for the first time in history, putting in spirited performances against Spain and Portugal. Such national unity can have a domino effect upon nationalism, and thus regime stability.
The repeated bids are symptomatic of Morocco’s insatiable desire for football. From twilight games on Mediterranean beaches to the diaspora of Spanish football fans spread throughout city cafes during Clásicos, to the scarlet walls of fans that line the populated stadiums during international games, Morocco is a nation obsessed with the beautiful game.
Its acquisition of the 2014, 2015 and 2023 Club World Cups and the 2016 and 2017 IAAF Diamond League are steps in the right direction, but Morocco could do more to increase its host nation CV.
Morocco have plenty in their favour on the pitch going into the 2030 process, but they need to adopt a grander strategy if they’re to be successful in the bidding wars which frequent the hosting process.
This move toward an intercontinental tournament is a step in the right direction. Both Spain (1982 World Cup) and Portugal (2004 European Championship) have experience of hosting major tournaments, as well as grand football reputations internationally. Gianni Infantino, too, is likely to be a fan of the cooperation between federations given his support for joint bids.
Given that infrastructural issues characterized much of Morocco’s previous failures, dividing their responsibility in half, or by two-thirds, could give them the relief needed to provide infrastructural and operational assurances. Spain and Portugal’s 2018 and 2022 bids were classed as low risk overall, and low risk in every individual category bar two. Being entrusted with a more manageable portion of tournament operations decreases the likelihood of an economically disastrous tournament for Morocco. Empty stadiums in Brazil and South Africa serve as reminders that the economic windfall a tournament can bring is often short-lived.
The joint bid also offers an opportunity to increase links between Morocco and Europe, and further Morocco’s popularity as a tourist destination. Morocco is already an associated country of the EU and holds advanced status under the European Neighbourhood Policy. Moreover, this opens possibility on a global scale, as Morocco can increase its profile as a diplomatic gateway to Europe for North African countries, whilst strengthening its economic ties with Portugal and Spain, the latter of which recently became Morocco’s leading economic partner.
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