When Morocco stunned Spain – and the world – with a dramatic penalty shootout victory in last year’s World Cup, authorities feared riots would break out.
None did and Morocco made history by becoming the first African nation to reach the semi-finals in what is arguably the world’s biggest sporting event.
Now, with the dust barely settled, Morocco has launched a joint bid with Spain and Portugal to stage the same competition in 2030.
Close neighbors who at times fall out over issues like immigration and autonomy, Madrid and Rabat want to join forces to host the World Cup, in a move analysts say signals closer relations between the two countries.
“The Kingdom of Morocco announced, together with Spain and Portugal, a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup,” Rabat announced in a statement on March 15. “This joint bid, which is unprecedented in football history, will bring together Africa and Europe, the northern and the 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.”
The move to share the bid between Spain and Morocco comes after Madrid last year changed its policy on the disputed territory of Western Sahara and backed Morocco’s claim to create an autonomous region under its control.
Co-hosted bids from either Latin America or Europe are likely to be picked in 2024.
Haizam Amirah-Fernandez, a senior analyst for the Mediterranean and Arab world at the Real Institute Elcano, a think tank in Madrid, said the idea for the three-country bid was not new.
“This has been an idea since 2018. (Spanish prime minister) Pedro Sánchez suggested the idea. But at that time FIFA (football’s world governing body) did not admit joint bids by different countries, so they discounted it,” he told VOA.
He said if the joint bid proves successful, it could bring dividends.
“For neighboring countries, with very tense relations on so many levels, it is always positive to have joint projects, especially projects which have an emotional level like football,” Amirah-Fernandez said.
He said it was “interesting” that the announcement was made separately by both Morocco and Spain, but it was not clear why this happened.
If part of the 2030 World Cup is held in Morocco, it remains to be seen whether any matches are played in the disputed territories of Western Sahara.
Any games in a territory which has been subject to military action and political controversy may risk prompting security risks and attracting the wrong kind of headlines for FIFA.
Political, economic advantages
Paul Brannagan, a professor of sports management at Manchester Metropolitan University, jointly wrote a book examining Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup, with Danyel Reiche, visiting professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. The book is called Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change.
“You cannot ever take out politics from sport. For countries to survive these days, they must operate like businesses. Of course, to stage the World Cup, they are going to look at the political advantages,” Brannagan told VOA.
“What we are seeing now is a drive to co-host these World Cups. In part this is to try to limit political controversy. If Qatar had shared the World Cup with the United Arab Emirates, it would have taken the heat off Qatar.” he noted.
World Cups spread over three countries, like the 2026 competition in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, may not be very easy for fans to enjoy given the logistical problems of attending games.
“Fans are not at the forefront of FIFA’s mind. (FIFA) will go where there is new markets and new money. (For FIFA) this idea of sharing is great because you get a lot more for your money,” Brannagan said.
He said the bid by Morocco, Spain and Portugal may appeal to FIFA because they would see it as an opportunity to improve political and trade relations between Rabat and Madrid.