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FIFA’s ‘white elephants’ warning after Morocco bid criticism

April 3, 2018

FIFA issued its second rebuke inside a week to Morocco’s World Cup bid for questioning the fairness of the process while warning it does not want unsuitable “white elephant” stadiums built for the 2026 tournament.

The process has been designed to end the “secret and subjective decisions” of the past, FIFA said after its president, Gianni Infantino, received a letter from Morocco complaining that the governing body had imposed burdensome demands for technical criteria that the bids will be scored on.

The protest is an indication of Morocco’s exasperation ahead of the June vote as it challenges a rival bid from North America, which already has the infrastructure to cope with the first World Cup to be held after the expansion from 32 to 48 finalists. Morocco, by contrast, has to build or renovate all 14 stadiums and up to 150 training grounds as part of a $15.8 billion project to host the nation’s biggest-ever sporting event.

Responding to Morocco’s concerns, FIFA told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “In order to avoid unsustainable bids ... with the creation of ‘white elephants’ — something FIFA has been heavily criticized for in the past — the scoring system evaluates with objective criteria how meaningful and sustainable is the infrastructure presented in the bids.”

The role of FIFA’s bid inspectors has been strengthened in response to concerns in 2010 that FIFA’s executive committee voted for Russia and Qatar in the dual 2018 and 2022 hosting votes despite those countries being evaluated as the highest-risk contenders.

Voting this time will be expanded to the FIFA membership, with up to 207 federations eligible. The bidding nations cannot vote, including the North American trio of the United States, Mexico and Canada, who announced Tuesday that they had secured the support of Saudi Arabia.

The 2026 contest could see bids be declared ineligible before the FIFA Congress vote on June 13 if they are scored lowly by a task force. Morocco federation president Fouzi Lekjaa objected to Infantino that they only received details of the scoring system on March 14, two days before deadline to receive bid books. The rival bid, which would see the U.S. host 60 of the 80 games, said it received the details at the same time.

“As a matter of principle, the basis of the preparation of a bid should not be the scoring system for the technical evaluation but rather the requirements which FIFA has provided to the bidders in 2017 through the bidding and hosting requirements,” FIFA said, dismissing Morocco’s objections.

The technical evaluation will assess if bids meet minimum requirements over infrastructure, costs and revenue projections.

“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 fulfil those requirements in certain key areas.”

Morocco said it will spend around $3 billion on stadiums and training grounds. The North American bid said it needs to spend $30 million-$40 million to install grass at stadiums, which don’t require any significant modification for the World Cup.

In correspondence with FIFA seen by the AP, Morocco expressed unhappiness that the population of host cities has be at least 25,000, 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.

In a scoring system of 0 to 5 — where 0 means is “no requirements met/very weak” and 5 is “requirements exceeded/excellent” — a bid must average a total of 2, or “minimum requirements met/sufficient,” to be approved ahead of the vote.

Bids must score at least a 2 for the individual aspects of stadiums, teams and referee facilities, plus accommodation and transport links. Failure to score 2 from the task force means a bid “has been evaluated as ‘high risk’ and represents a material failure” that could see the bid disqualified by FIFA.

Morocco anticipates raising $785 million from 3.5 million tickets sold, while North America forecasts generating $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.

FIFA last week told Morocco that Infantino was not meddling in the contest after the bid leadership suggested he was engineering the rules around apparent support for North America.

“As explained many times, 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.

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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