Updated: Thursday, January 25, 2018, 2:14 PM
Instead of trying to exploit Donald Trump’s unpopularity around the world, Morocco is working to distance itself from allegations of corruption as the African country goes head-to-head with North America to host the 2026 World Cup.
Any attempt to drag American presidential politics into the soccer campaign could be dangerous territory for the north African bidders. Morocco is saddled by its own baggage: bribery accusations against past World Cup bids that were leveled by U.S. prosecutors in the sprawling investigation into soccer corruption.
Those accused implicated in the alleged Moroccan vote-buying plot are yet to stand trial, and the 2026 bid team does not want to be held responsible for any unproven misdeeds in the past.
“We do not have anything to do with the past as Morocco,” 2026 bid chief executive Hicham El Amrani said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Do not make me comment on past bids for which we were not part of. Our bid is clean and will be compliant and this is what counts.”
Morocco has only just launched its campaign, blocking the unimpeded path to victory envisaged by the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico for the first World Cup that jumps from 32 to 48 teams.
The U.S., which is the dominant partner with 60 of 80 games, has acknowledged the bid could be weighed down by negative global perceptions about the country. During his first year in the White House, Trump has faced international criticism for disparaging countries, including denigrating the African continent in a recent private outburst.
While Trump won’t be in office in 2026, the vote is in June. And for the first time, a winning World Cup bid requires the backing of the majority of the world. Rather than a select group of around 20 FIFA executives voting, all 211 soccer nations cast a ballot.
“I will leave up to voters to decide what they think — our focus is on our bid,” El Amrani said when asked about Trump. “I won’t make comments about the leadership here and there.
“We don’t want to win the right to host because of someone else, but because of our clear advantages … we will stay away (from Trump) because it’s not proper to (comment).”
Instead, Morocco believes it has a positive case to pitch to voters to counter North America’s assertion that it is the “risk averse” option that can replenish the shortfalls in the FIFA finances after sponsors fled during corruption scandals.
“Contrary to what we can hear about potential revenue,” El Amrani said, “Morocco has a fantastic offer from that perspective …. and financial certainty.”
A proposition that is attractive to television viewers as well as fans and players on the ground, according to El Amrani, who was previously general secretary at the Confederation of African Football.
“We have a unique selling proposition as a very compact country,” El Amrani said.
While the North American bid covers a trio of time zones and nations, no multi-hour flights would be required between venues in Morocco.
“It allows better comfort and less traveling time,” El Amrani said. “That will allow for better quality of play.”
FIFA will earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts negotiated to stave off legal action for shifting the dates of the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Morocco is predicting any shortfall could be filled because of a time zone that makes games more accessible for global television viewers, particularly in lucrative European market.
“Morocco represents a sweet spot in terms of time zones,” El Amrani said. “Morocco will be a profitable destination for FIFA.”
Morocco will propose 14 potential venues when the bid book is delivered in March, expanding some stadiums with modular designs that can be downsized. El Amrani declined at this stage to forecast the cost of stadium construction, preparing training grounds and securing the nation for the biggest event in its history.
“There are still gaps we need to fulfil to what is required 2026,” We are convinced we will reach it.”
Morocco lost out to the U.S. for the right to host the 1994 World Cup and last bid when South Africa landed the 2010 tournament for the continent for the first time.
More AP coverage of FIFA: www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA
Read full story: Morocco vows 'clean' World Cup bid that won't exploit Trump