May 15, 2018 / 2:57 PM / 2 months ago

Soccer: Wavering South Africa under pressure to keep backing Morocco's World Cup bid

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - African football’s leadership will attempt on Wednesday to persuade South Africa to keep backing Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup, officials said on Tuesday.

South Africa, who became the first African country to host the World Cup in 2010, are threatening to break ranks and vote for the rival North American bid in what would be a blow to the African cause.

Confederation of African Football president Ahmad will be hoping to pursuade South African Football Association (SAFA) representatives to back Morocco’s bid when they meet in Johannesburg.

Last week South Africa’s sports minister Tokozile Xasa urged the football association not to vote for Morocco at the FIFA Congress in Moscow on June 13, when each of the member countries of world football’s governing body casts a vote to decide where the 2026 finals will be played.

The two countries have had strained relations since Morocco withdrew its ambassador from Pretoria in 2004 when South Africa recognised the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic‚ also known as the Western Sahara.

“We are very clear that we can’t support Morocco. Our parliament was very straightforward in this regard‚ it is the mandate of the country and it is an obligation for sporting bodies to understand what the country’s agenda is‚” Xasa said.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975, and since then the territory has been the subject of a dispute between it and the Polisario Front, an independence movement backed by many African countries, including South Africa.

SAFA president Danny Jordaan, a former parliamentarian with the ruling African National Congress, received a Moroccan bid delegation last month with much fanfare but has since sought to distance himself.

Instead SAFA announced that their executive committee will make a final decision on whether to support Morocco’s bid at a meeting later this month.

“SAFA wants to reiterate that no decision has been taken at this stage on the matter on who to support,” said a statement.

FIFA has strict rules on government interference in the affairs of its member associations. Countries found to have broken those rules can face a number of sanctions, including expulsion from FIFA and playing bans.

Morocco have made a concerted effort in recent years to drum up support among African football associations, signing co-operation agreements with a myriad of countries and spending lavishly to host CAF events since Ahmad became president 14 months ago.

The joint bid from Canada, Mexico and U.S. is fancied to beat Morocco to host the expanded 48-team 2026 World Cup.

Editing by Pritha Sarkar

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