Annnnd we take a half-hour break. Surely wonderful news to Americans who woke up in the middle of the night for this.
Compliance speeches and budget reports at 4 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States are a special kind of sleep aid. Kudos to anyone toughing it out while they are waiting for the 2026 vote.
Blatter Weighs In
From The Associated Press: The former FIFA President Sepp Blatter is claiming credit for Morocco’s not being eliminated by inspectors as a candidate to host the 2026 World Cup.
Blatter, who was ousted from power at FIFA in 2015 over financial misconduct, has publicly backed the Morocco bid.
He told the A.P. that “I was fighting for Morocco and for Africa because at a certain time (FIFA) wanted to eliminate Morocco before going to the vote, and now, they are at the vote and I think it’s a victory also of my intervention, especially.”
Morocco was scored 2.7 out of 5 by FIFA’s inspection task force, which marked the North America bid a 4 in the same report last month. Morocco would have been disqualified if it had scored lower than 2.
Back From the Dead
More Infantino: the president also reminded members of the state the organization was in when he took control in 2016, describing FIFA as “clinically dead” then. He then tells them that under his stewardship it is now “alive and full of passion with with a vision for its future.”
Infantino Sings the Standards, in Four Languages
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, shifting effortlessly among four languages, uses his address to the congress to highlight FIFA’s development spending and his work expanding revenues. This is a standard for FIFA presidents when they talk to the organization’s many smaller countries, and it is a point that got him elected in 2016 — after he promised to double development payments to member nations. But experienced listeners among you probably got the subtle hint he was sending ahead of the 2026 vote that one bid promises to bring in more than twice as much revenue as the other.
Those billions of dollars from the World Cup are where FIFA’s development money comes from, and Infantino is basically saying today that the more of that revenue there is to spread around as investments in global soccer, the better.
Sweden for North America
The president of Sweden’s soccer association, Karl-Erik Nilsson, told a radio interviewer that his country would vote for the North American bid today. That’s three Nordic countries to commit to the North American bid in the last hour.
Ghana is announced as absent in the roll call. That leaves 210 members in attendance at the congress, and since the four bidding nations cannot cast a ballot, it means that the magic number to guarantee victory in the 2026 vote remains at 104. Morocco has been pressing to bar four American territories from voting, too, but the North Americans will be expected to contest that.
Late Night? For Many, Yes
A note from a bleary-eyed Tariq Panja, who was out very late reporting on Tuesday: Teams from both bids worked well into the early morning Wednesday to target swing voters from Europe and Asia. Shortly after 12.30 a.m., a delegation from Morocco swept into the five-star Baltschug Kempinski hotel. They were followed less than 10 minutes later by a team from the North American bid, including U.S. President Carlos Cordeiro.
The two bid teams had been shadowing each other’s movements for the entire week in Moscow, visiting various confederation meetings, and the trip to the Baltschug Kempinski, the Asian associations’ hotel, was a sign that both bidders remained convinced they still had a chance to secure sport’s biggest prize.
The North American bid was able to lean on vocal and practical support from Saudi Arabia weeks before the final vote. The Saudis arranged meetings with other Asian nations in Jidda last month, and, leaving nothing to chance, they lobbied on behalf of the North Americans until the final moments.
Hours earlier, and perhaps the biggest sign of the unpredictable nature of FIFA elections, the Netherlands, which had given the North American bid every indication that its vote was secured, announced it would support Morocco instead.
Two More for North America
Finland and Denmark both announced this morning that they would support the North American bid for the 2026 World Cup.
A Little Comedy to Start
The congress begins with two tests of the voting system that will become the star later. FIFA’s Secretary General, Fatma Samoura, asks the members to answer two questions: Is the 68th FIFA Congress taking place in Moscow? And, Is the 2018 World Cup taking place in Moscow. Troublingly, the correct answer — “yes” — gets only 95 percent. “I think those that have voted no have had a long night, or a short night, depending on how you want to see it,” FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, jokes before starting his welcoming remarks.
One other curious thing about those votes: 18 voters didn’t answer the first one, and 22 didn’t answer the second. Let’s hope it’s that they just couldn’t be bothered, instead of a problem with (or a misunderstanding of how to use) the electronic voting devices.
What Else Is on the Agenda Today?
The 2026 vote is the headliner, but FIFA has other matters on the agenda, too. There will be consideration of proposed changes to FIFA’s statutes, and the potential for the suspension or expulsion of members (Ghana’s soccer association, for example, is in the middle of a serious corruption crisis). FIFA will approve a budget — The Times got hold of those numbers yesterday — and plenty of arcane talk of rules and committee assignments.
World Cup 2026 Top Story Lines
• The race for the 2026 World Cup began last August. For a while, it appeared the North Americans — who had announced their intentions in April — would bid alone. But Morocco jumped in on the final day for countries to announce they would bid; the decision forced the North Americans to rewrite their news releases, but it did not diminish their role as the favorite.
• FIFA technical inspectors performed site inspections during visits to both bids in April. Their resulting report rated the North American bid as “very good” but declared the Moroccan effort merely “sufficient.” While the inspectors did not eliminate Morocco from the race, they noted pointed concerns about its ability to host.
• To win the right to host the World Cup, one bid must gain a simple majority of votes from FIFA’s member associations, who each get a say this year. It is the first time FIFA’s membership has had a say; in the past, the hosting rights were awarded in a secret vote of FIFA’s governing council.
• The North American bid is built around the words “unity, certainty and opportunity.” It is offering a choice from among 23 existing stadiums in 16 cities in the three countries. But its main selling point is money: the bid’s leaders have tempted voters with the promise of a record $11 billion payday for FIFA and its members.
• Morocco has bristled at all the talk of money, perhaps because there is no way it can match it. Instead, the Moroccans have billed their country’s “passion” for soccer and its proximity to valuable European television markets, where its matches would air in prime time.
• Morocco’s main problem is infrastructure; it would need to build nine stadiums for the event, not to mention roads, rail lines and hotels, among many other investments.
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