As amazing as the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament – Women’s if we’re being real – and Winter Olympics were, the greatest sporting event of the year is still two months away. In June, 32 nations will face off in the World Cup for the title of the greatest international soccer team.
The World Cup offers something that professional sports cannot. Entire countries unify behind their teams as the greatest players in the world battle each other for the ultimate accomplishment in their sport. And the immense popularity of soccer brings an importance to the event that even the Olympics lack.
The World Cup will take place in Russia this summer and in Qatar four years from now, both less than ideal locations. There are major human rights concerns in both countries, and weather in Qatar will move the tournament to the winter. But four years after the Qatar tournament, in 2026, there is a real chance that the World Cup takes place in the U.S., with a joint U.S.-Canada-Mexico bid the current frontrunner for that iteration of the tournament. A World Cup taking place primarily in the U.S. – Mexico and Canada would each only host a handful of games – would be a huge boon to soccer in the country, especially after not qualifying for Russia 2018. And, on a personal level, the opportunity to attend and bask in the world’s greatest sporting event would be a dream come true.
However, in recent months, a bid from Morocco for the 2026 tournament has gained traction. And, as amazing as a World Cup in the U.S. would be for me as a fan and for the country as a whole, a 2026 World Cup in Morocco is the best choice for the sport of soccer.
Some of the debate between the Morocco and U.S.-Mexico-Canada joint bids will probably focus on relatively minor specifics. Morocco will be easier for teams and fans to travel through. Mexico, world-renowned for its love of soccer, has not hosted a World Cup since 1986. Morocco’s time zone is better suited for European and African viewers.
And, of course, politics have entered the discussion. In their official bid website, Morocco describes itself as, “a melting pot of harmony, tolerance and respect.” If not a direct critique of Donald Trump and his policies, this language is at least an obvious counter to his rhetoric and an attempt to capitalize on his global popularity.
Perhaps for the above reasons, Morocco has gained support from a number of countries. And, unlike previous World Cups, the 2026 tournament will be awarded to whichever bid receives a majority vote from FIFA member countries. Neighboring Algeria has pledged its vote, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see other African nations follow suit in support of what would be only the second World Cup in Africa. From CONCACAF, the North American federation, Saint Lucia and Dominica have both declared for Morocco. Even France, a favorite to win this summer’s tournament, decided to support the North African country over the U.S. Like it or not, the Morocco 2026 bid is a legitimate contender. But when it comes to the traditional FIFA standards of infrastructure and profitability, the American-led bid is miles ahead.
In order to host a World Cup, FIFA requires host countries to meet certain stadium requirements. These include an 80,000 seat stadium for the opening and final games and 60,000 seat stadiums for the semifinals. The U.S. wouldn’t even need to cooperate with Mexico or Canada to meet these requirements easily. On the other hand, Morocco plans to either build or renovate all 14 of the stadiums it would use for the tournament and spend $16 billion in the process. The U.S. also has more tourism infrastructure and is much better equipped to handle the mass of fans that a World Cup brings.
These advantages for the U.S. translate into an upper hand in revenue, with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada bid expected to rake in $2.1 billion in ticket sales compared to $785 million for Morocco.
Giving the World Cup to the U.S. and its neighbors would be much easier than granting it to Morocco and would make a lot more money. But, by this logic, the tournament would cycle between the same wealthy western countries as it has done for most World Cups to date.
South Africa was the first African country to host the World Cup in 2010, and it had to bribe FIFA to do so. Besides 2010, South Korea and Japan in 2002, and Uruguay in the first World Cup in 1930, every tournament to date has been held in a Western European country or a major country in the Americas. The World Cup is a global competition, so it makes sense that hosts should come from around the globe.
There are solutions to the infrastructure problem. Morocco has discussed temporarily expanding stadiums and reverting them back to their original size after the tournament. This strategy would create the necessary capacity to host the World Cup without leaving oversized or abandoned stadiums after the tournament’s end.
A World Cup in Morocco will never match one in the U.S. or Western Europe in terms of revenue, at least anytime soon. But when FIFA is making $300 million from the TV deal for the tournament, they aren’t exactly strapped for cash. FIFA may want to keep lining its pockets, but the benefits of diversifying World Cup hosting are more important.
Morocco is far from a perfect candidate for the tournament. They will likely come under human rights criticism from FIFA over an anti-LGBT law. But with the 2018 and 2022 World Cups headed to Russia and Qatar, a decision to not award Morocco based on human rights grounds would be hypocritical at best and a blatant excuse to chase profits at worst. Besides, it’s not like the U.S. is free from human rights criticism, as supporters of the Morocco bid are willing to point out.
The identity of the host for the 2026 World Cup is still up in the air. The U.S. joint bid is the favorite, but thanks to FIFA reforms and the new voting system, Morocco has a shot. If FIFA countries want to honor the spirit of the World Cup and make the tournament as great as it can be, then choosing Morocco is the right decision.