(WFI) A white elephant is a rare large mammal of fair skin, pale eyes and white nails considered in places like Thailand sacred and a symbol of royal power.
But within the confines of the International Olympic Committee and now FIFA, a white elephant is a different type of “animal”, one to avoid for representing a possession that is useless and troublesome, expensive to maintain and difficult to dispose of.
The white elephant FIFA is now wary of has the potential to appear, according to the world’s football governing body, in… Morocco.
The North African country is bidding for the right to host the 2026 World Cup while FIFA has already expressed that it does not want unsuitable “white elephant” stadiums in Morocco built exclusively for the tournament with no further use.
The warning from football’s governing body comes as a response to the letter sent by the Moroccans to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to protest what they consider FIFA’s unjust and unattainable demands in that country’s quest to organize the World Cup.
Morocco suspects the technical criteria it faces to enter the race is due to FIFA’s alleged favoritism to the rival bid from North America. That united candidacy comprised of the United States, Canada and Mexico already has the infrastructure to cope with a World Cup which for the first time will be expanded from 32 to 48 countries.
Morocco, by contrast, has to build or renovate all 14 stadiums and much of its infrastructure as part of a $15.8 billion project to host the event.
Both candidacies are now subject to inspections from FIFA’S task force. The technical evaluation will assess if bids meet minimum requirements over infrastructure, costs and revenue projections. If one of the bids scores too low, it will be declared ineligible for the vote on June 13 in Moscow.
Morocco’s federation president Fouzi Lekjaa insists that his country only received details of the scoring system on March 14, two days before the deadline to receive bid books.
But the North American rival bid said it received the details at the same time. On Tuesday, FIFA tried to dismiss the Moroccans’ objections.
“Contrary to what the FRMF (the Moroccan federation federation) implies, the hosting requirements, which were clearly set in the bidding registration and other bidding/hosting documents provided in 2017, have not changed,” FIFA said.
“The scoring system merely provides a methodology for evaluating and documenting the extent to which the bids submitted fulfill those requirements in certain key areas.”
The role of FIFA’s bid inspectors has been reinforced in response to past concerns that FIFA’s executive committee voted for Russia and Qatar to host the tournament in 2018 and 2022 despite both countries having failings at some levels and being evaluated as the highest-risk contenders.
“The bidding process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been designed to evaluate the bids against objective criteria and so avoid a return to the secret and subjective decisions of the past,” FIFA said Tuesday.
Morocco has also expressed unhappiness that the population of host cities has be at least 250,000, airports must have the capacity for 60 million passengers a year and that the travel time from the airport to the city must be a maximum 90 minutes.
A low score on those specific criteria would not see a bidder excluded, FIFA assured Morocco on Tuesday.
“A host city could still meet the minimum requirements for transport without meeting such an individual requirement on the location of the airport, in particular if other criteria are satisfied,” FIFA said.
Voting for the 2026 World Cup will be expanded this time to the entire FIFA membership, with up to 207 federations eligible on an open ballot.
According to some reports, Morocco would receive $785 million from 3.5 million tickets sold if it hosted the World Cup; North America’s predictions are much higher and forecast $2.1 billion from 5.8 million tickets.
FIFA would also earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts already negotiated.
The numbers seem to favor the North American bid. But in this age of new transparency within FIFA, no one should underestimate a possible surprise. Maybe white elephants could fare well in the Moroccan deserts.
By INSIDER Javier Monne
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER