May 3, 2018 / 7:38 PM / 3 months ago

Geo-politics hangs over jet-lagged 2026 World Cup vote hunters

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Opening up the vote for FIFA’s 2026 World Cup to every country’s federation has brought a new type of campaigning but geo-political realities and promises of profits remain a strong influence on the process.

A tri-nation bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada is facing a challenge from underdogs Morocco and officials from both bid teams are jetting around the world in search of support.

The three co-chairs from the joint North American bid flew into the Danish capital on Thursday morning from Jakarta, Indonesia.

They made an hour-long presentation to five Nordic federations before a news conference and then, suitcases back in hand, flew straight out again to Dubai for another sales pitch, this time to Middle Eastern voters.

Under FIFA’s new system for choosing the host nation for the lucrative tournament, with all 211 football federations in FIFA each given a vote, the bid teams must travel the globe in order to deliver their message to the electorate.

It wasn’t always such hard work.

Last time around in 2010, in the Sepp Blatter era, it was enough for bid teams to target the 22 voters on the executive committee who made the decision.

The only times bids needed to work a room came at one of the six continental confederation congresses where those “Exco” members mingled with their regional colleagues.

But after a series of allegations surrounding the voters for Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) and in the midst of the corruption scandal that rocked FIFA in 2015 leading to a series of arrests, FIFA decided to widen the franchise for the big decision.

“I think ultimately this is a decision that should be made by the associations, big and small. Everyone has a vote, it is a very democratic, open process and there are very stringent guidelines, set by FIFA, as to what you can and cannot do and we are following them scrupulously,” U.S Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro told Reuters.

Those with the vote certainly appreciate being involved.

“I am really glad we are having these meetings, it is part of the reform process that we moved the decision-making from the few,” Danish FA President Jesper Moller said.

“We can and did ask a lot of questions and that is very good for a democratic and open process,” he added.

PUBLISHED CRITERIA

Yet while the powerpoint presentations and Q&A sessions have been given new importance, along with FIFA’s own technical examination of the bids, which must now meet a series of published criteria, outside influences continue to have power over the process.

U.S. President Donald Trump waded into the campaign last week with a Tweet that made clear he expected countries that receive American economic and other forms of support to deliver their votes for his nation’s bid.

Morocco is not only expecting to benefit from the tendency for African countries to vote as a block but also enjoys the support of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“I like to think that people will make decisions based on what is in their best interests and the interests of football and that this not a geo-political discussion at the UN,” Cordeiro said.

There is also another reality of football politics that hasn’t changed – the need to deliver FIFA some handsome profits.

In a media presentation, Morocco bid CEO Hicham El Amrani, said a study had shown that “Morocco can guarantee a net profit of 5 billion US dollars, considering a revenue of 7.2 billion and an expense of 2.2 billion,” – figures that were strongly questioned by Cordeiro.

The first page of the North American bid’s brochure states they expect $2 billion in ticket revenue alone and the bid says they would generate more than $5 billion in short-term economic activity.

“They are two strong bids,” Moller said diplomatically when asked if either of the proposals had won over the Nordic voters.

The vote will be held at the FIFA congress on June 13 in Moscow.

Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond

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