14 June 2018

Africa: Morocco's 2026 World Cup Bid Loss - a Lesson in Pan-Africanism

Morocco's fifth World Cup bid crashed spectacularly after it lost to the North American trio of US, Mexico and Canada. 11 African countries voted against Morocco. Namibia was unequivocal, clearly stating it voted against Morocco because of its occupation of the Sahrawi Republic. Morocco might have rejoined the African Union, but many Africans still don't think its loyalty lies in Africa.

Morocco has lost the World Cup bid for the fifth time. The North African nation which has a dicey relationship with the rest of the continent bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Unfortunately for Morocco, its past actions against members of the continent, not just in past World Cup bids, but also against the Sahrawi Republic, influenced the decisions of many football governing bodies on the continent.

Morocco rejoined the African Union last year after a 33-year absence. It left the Organisation of African Unity in 1984 after the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was recognised by the body. In 1987, Morocco applied to join the European Union, a body it feels more connected with. Morocco's King had once said that Morocco was a tree with its roots in Africa and its branches in Africa. But the country has towed to more European lines than African.

In 2006, Morocco bid to host the World Cup, facing stiff competition from South Africa. Germany won the bid at the end. South Africans were particularly happy with the decision of the World Cup bid for 2026 going to the North American countries; US, Canada and Mexico.

South African political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) posted a press release with the headline, "EFF Welcomes the rejection of Morocco to host the FIFA soccer World Cup". According to the EFF, "sports must never be neutral to colonization and violation of human rights."

For many across the continent, Morocco is still a distant country, which has not fully integrated into the continent. 11 African countries voted for the USA/Mexico/Canada bid; Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Guinea, Cape Verde, Liberia, Lesotho, Benin and Botswana. 41 African nations however supported Morocco.

According to Maclean Letshiwiti, the President, Botswana Football Association, he told BBC "we're not against anybody, we just voted for the best bid for football development in the world." Despite the numerous times that Morocco has bid to host the World Cup tournament, it still doesn't yet have enough stadiums. Walter Nyanilandu, the president of the Football Association of Malawi believes that eight years would have been enough time for Morocco to prepare for the tournament.

The Secretary General of Namibia Football Association, Barry Rukoro was quite blunt about Namibia's decision not to support Morocco. "Namibia being a product of international solidarity and also if you listen to the rhetoric in our national political landscape, we could not do otherwise but not vote (for Morocco)."

Morocco's loss was also predicated on the fact that they couldn't match the $11 billion profit FIFA would get from the North American bid, as compared to only $5 billion profit from Morocco.

In 2015, Morocco pulled out of hosting the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) due to Ebola, a decision which irked many Africans across the continent. The FootballFederation of Morocco wrote to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone the tournament, fearing that Ebola would cross into Morocco. CAF rejected the proposal. Morocco further proposed for the Nations Cup to be moved to 2016, or the 2015 rights be given to another country while the 2017 slot is reserved for it. CAF rejected all proposals.

For many, Morocco's actions were totally against the solidarity that should be shared among members of the continent. Morocco was banned from the next two African Nations Cups and was fined $1 million.

The current football war is an extension of Morocco's relationship with the continent. A relationship where many consider that Morocco has not showed its loyalty to the continent in one form or the other, most importantly in regards to the occupation of the Sahrawi Republic.

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