Are Middle East countries truly incapable of hosting a World Cup?
Aside from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, don’t hold out hope for another big sports event in the region anytime soon.
Following an announcement on June 13, 2018, FIFA confirmed that the bid for the 2026 World Cup had been won by the US, Canada, and Mexico, leaving ardent Morocco to lose their fifth World Cup bid.
The vote, tallied at 134-65 for the so-called “United 2026” bid of the US, Canada, and Mexico, left Morocco with an overwhelming loss.
Morocco had hoped to bring the World Cup to North Africa for the first time, following 2010’s event being hosted in South Africa. 2010 marked the first time the tournament had ever been hosted in Africa.
Why didn’t Morocco get the nod?
The championship is set to expand by 50% in 2026, with the number of participating teams due to be raised from 32 to 48. FIFA voters were apparently uncertain the country of 36.2 million would be capable of handling such a large-scale tournament.
While Morocco seemed to be making progress and simultaneously accruing momentum with their bid, a few other factors contributed to their eventual failure.
First, as the Washington Post explains, “North America accelerated its efforts the past four months by sending the three co-chairs on separate lobbying trips around the world. They ended up meeting some 150 national representatives.”
Secondly, FIFA’s evaluation task force stoked doubts in voters about Morocco’s capacity to host the World Cup. On a report issued three weeks ago, Morocco received 2.7 of a possible five points while North America earned four.
Had they won the bid, Morocco would have had to build several new stadiums and make significant infrastructure improvements in a span of 8 years. This would have proven a burden on a country already $51.1 million deep in external debt, according to Trading Economics.
Morocco would need to spend almost $16 billion to fully prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, the bid entailed.
Why did Qatar win the 2022 bid?
Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, is only 1.5% of Morocco’s total area, putting it at a tiny 11,571 km². Yet, FIFA had no qualms about hosting the event there. This is not to mention the excessive heat and regulations on the use of alcohol (in open spaces) that will prove a major hurdle for foreign fans to deal with.
Perhaps FIFA’s reasoning is not fueled solely by infrastructure concerns, but also with the capacity for monetary returns.
Consider this: Reuters reports that the North American collective pledged they would earn FIFA $11 billion in profits, whereas Morocco could only feasibly promise $5 billion.
In 2010, when Qatar won the bid, they had promised to “devote $50 billion to new infrastructure (including an entirely new metro system), plus twelve new stadiums around the capital of Doha,” American magazine The New Republic reported.
Qatar bid against Japan, the US, South Korea, and Australia back in 2010, and even though the US had scored the highest in terms of infrastructure and suitability as hosts, Qatar was eventually selected in spite of this.
That left many wondering, till today, whether corruption was at play, especially at a time when the former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was found guilty of bribery prompting his resignation.
Are big sports events feasible in the Middle East?
While Dubai has seen its fair share of renowned international competitions such as the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, the final of the Race to Dubai golf championship, and the International Rugby Sevens, the region has yet to host an event on the scale of the World Cup or the Olympics.
While Egypt has shown interest in hosting the 2032 Olympics, it remains wishful thinking at this current moment in time.
Most sports events in the region remain grounded at the local level. Is Morocco’s latest failure an endemic sign in the MENA region? For now, it seems that Middle Eastern countries, save for a reckless spender such as Qatar, have no chance at hosting the World Cup, or any other major sports event.