Iberia-Morocco World Cup would inspire Africa
With memories of last year’s World Cup in Qatar still strong, football fans recall an excellently organized and family friendly tournament that put the Arab and developing worlds at center stage. The fact that the cup was so dramatically taken home by a Latin American country after a grueling slog with holders France provided a beautiful denouement. The most lasting epitaph to the representative nature of the event, however, was the astonishing run of Morocco’s national team, forever enveloping its games in red and green. It is, therefore, incredibly exciting that the plucky North African kingdom last week announced it would be joining Spain and Portugal’s bid to host the 2030 tournament.
Morocco’s dramatic semifinal departure, which unified an otherwise disconnected region in outpourings of support, was not, as had been expected, a brief moment in footballing history. Last month, it hosted the FIFA Club World Cup in what seemed like a discreet showcasing of its intention to host a larger sporting event. The announcement that Morocco will now formally join the existing Iberian bid is therefore incredibly well-timed, especially as the initial partner, Ukraine, is likely to still be in a state of rebuilding given that it is now in its second year of war.
Spain and Portugal declared their joint candidacy in 2021, before adding Ukraine to their bid last October. With Ukraine’s participation increasingly in doubt, Morocco surprised the footballing world in a statement signed by King Mohammed and read out at a meeting of the Confederation of African Football. King Mohammed said: “This joint bid, which is unprecedented in football history, will bring together Africa and Europe, the northern and southern Mediterranean, and the African, Arab and Euro-Mediterranean worlds. It will also bring out the best in all of us — in effect, a combination of genius, creativity, experience, and means.”
Given the eight miles that separate the two sides of the Mediterranean, the announcement of collaboration is intuitive and representative of a wider trend in football, with the 2026 tournament’s games also being shared among Canada, the US and Mexico.
However, the spirit of north-south collaboration has not always been the reality in relations between these Mediterranean countries. Historical overhangs and modern political realities came to a climax during the pandemic, as characterized by wrangling over migrants. But a year since Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote a letter to King Mohammed, relations between Morocco and Spain are improving, with Rabat’s oldest European contact fast on its way to becoming its largest trading partner. The last bilateral meeting between the heads of government of the two countries, held in Rabat last month, was an iteration of this growing alliance as Morocco diversifies its diplomacy.
This joint bid to host the 2030 tournament is another example of the changing dynamic between European powers and Africa.
Zaid M. Belbagi
The World Cup bid may seem optimistic but, considered in the wider geopolitical context, it is another example of the changing dynamic between European powers and Africa. Amid a wider French economic and political retreat from territories it had considered its own preserve, the advance of countries like Morocco, which provide valuable security guarantees to Europe generally, shows a growing interdependence that is underscored by the joint World Cup bid. Despite the recent furor regarding lobbying in Brussels and the infiltration and arrest of Daesh cells by the Moroccan security services — at a time when France has retreated in the Sahel and other North African countries lack the stability to provide a security function — such relationships are growing in importance.
Football’s world governing body FIFA is expected to announce the 2030 World Cup hosts in September 2024. The Iberian-Moroccan bid is up against a South American bid, including Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, and a Saudi Arabia joint ticket with Egypt and Greece. Given that, of the last nine World Cups, four have been held in Europe and six won by European teams, bids from the Global South are good news for the game. The US, co-host of the upcoming tournament, hosted one as recently as 1994.
As far as the world’s foremost sporting event is concerned, developed countries are disproportionately represented. Morocco’s surprise entry into the race will provide an important opportunity to expand ties between Africa and the West, provide jobs and, more intangibly, provide inspiration to countless people on the continent.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and an adviser to private clients between London and the GCC.