FILE - In this Saturday March 17, 2018 file photo, a giant screen display the logo of Morocco 2026 inside of the reception before a press conference to promote Morocco's bib for the 2026 soccer World Cup in Casablanca, Morocco. The North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup has outscored Morocco following inspections with FIFA labeling the North African proposal "high risk" in three areas, it was announced on Friday, June 1. The joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico scored four out of five while Morocco scored 2.7 following FIFA inspections. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar, file)

FIFA: N America World Cup bid outscores 'high-risk' Morocco

June 01, 2018 - 7:32 pm
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FIFA inspectors warned voters deciding the host of the 2026 World Cup that Morocco's plans pose a "high risk" to the tournament due to a lack of infrastructure, while awarding North America's bid a significantly higher score in an evaluation report.

The destination of the soccer showpiece will be decided by up to 207 football nations in a public vote on June 13 that contrasts with the secrecy surrounding previous tainted World Cup decisions.

The report puts pressure on the FIFA Congress to follow the verdicts from inspectors, who marked the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico as 402 out of 500 and flagged Morocco's proposals on stadiums, accommodation and transport as high risks in a score of 275 out of 500.

The five-man FIFA-appointed task force said it "considers it its duty to emphasize the significant overall risk" of a country needing to build so many key assets, concluding that the bids are "almost opposite ends of the spectrum."

The 2026 World Cup is the first tournament FIFA has confirmed will expand from 32 to 48 teams — putting increasing demands on the stadiums and facilities required to stage 80 games.

"The amount of new infrastructure required for the Morocco 2026 bid to become reality cannot be overstated," the bid evaluation task force said.

No part of North America's proposals was called high risk and FIFA said it "has a clear lead" to advance the governing body's mission to "push new boundaries in terms of sports-related technology and engagement" since stadiums and hotels already exist.

"FIFA (could) focus on a number of exciting initiatives relating to sports science, fan engagement, multimedia interaction and other new forms of digitalization," the report said.

The U.S., which hosted the 1994 World Cup, would host 60 games in 2026, including everything from the quarterfinal stage. Mexico, which was the sole host in 1970 and 1986, would have to settle for 10 games, like Canada.

The North Americans scored the only maximum five mark from FIFA for its ticketing and hospitality plans, which helped drive a forecast revenue for the tournament of $14.3 billion, "significantly higher" than Morocco's $7.2 billion.

However, the lowest mark out of five for either bid in each of nine categories is 2.0 for the Americans' projected organizing costs which were driven up by having 16 stadiums instead of the minimum 12. 

In 20 categories evaluated for risk, the North American bid had three medium-risk areas — government support, human rights and labor standards, and organizing costs — and 17 low risk.

Morocco had the three high-risk sections, 10 medium risk — also including human rights and labor standards — and seven low risk.

FIFA ordered more rigorous inspections after criticism of the 2018-2022 World Cup votes in 2010 when Russia and Qatar won despite being judged the riskiest by a task force. Morocco could have been disqualified if it had scored less than two out of five in the overall average scoring, and less than two on key measures including stadiums.

The FIFA Council has to approve both candidates at a June 10 meeting in Moscow. The final vote at the FIFA Congress is three days later and the inspection scores can be ignored when making their decision.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, refurbishment is only required at six North American venues.

"Accommodation was assessed as being the largest challenge facing the Morocco 2026 bid," the bid evaluation report said. "Only two of the 14 proposed stadiums would have sufficient levels of general accommodation to meet the minimum requirements."

The FIFA evaluation confirmed an Associated Press report in April that Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to the governing body in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book.

"The documents submitted do not specifically discuss risks to some potentially affected groups, such as representatives of the LGBTI+ community," the FIFA report said. "Also absent from the documents is a comprehensive methodology to prioritize risks."

The north African nation, which has failed in four previous attempts to host the World Cup, said on Friday said FIFA's task force "confirms the quality of the Moroccan bid book," but offered no response to the shortcomings.

The North American campaign has been dogged by questions on the impact of policies from the Trump administration, including attempts to implement a ban on travel by residents of six majority-Muslim countries.

The U.S. offered fresh guarantees to FIFA there will be no discrimination around entry for the tournament.

"Due to new entry regulations that are currently being proposed in the United States in relation to citizens from certain countries, there are significant risks to discrimination-free entry to the country," FIFA said.

In appeals for votes last month, President Donald Trump said he would be "watching very closely" and issued a veiled threat to withhold U.S. support from countries opposing the North American bid.

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