CAIRO, Egypt, Apr 23 – The head of African football, Ahmad Ahmad, has urged Europe to back Morocco’s drive to host the 2026 World Cup, in return for African support for a future European bid.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Ahmad Ahmad, the Confederation of African Football president, appealed to European self-interest, saying: “Vote for us and we’ll vote for you next time.”
Morocco is a two-horse race against a rival united bid from the USA, Canada, and Mexico. The decisive vote will take place at the FIFA Congress in Moscow on June 13, one day ahead of the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Ahmad, who replaced long-serving Issa Hayatou as head of CAF in March 2017, spoke of the importance of Africa’s bid to host the World Cup for only the second time, as well as significant changes that will shake up next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).
He said Africa and CAF stood solidly behind Morocco’s bid to organise the 2026 World Cup, which will come 16 years after South Africa staged the tournament.
“Being in Africa while this is happening, standing ahead of this objective (the World Cup) I think that Africans, whether francophone or anglophone… it’s in the continent’s interest,” he said.
“The World Cup has an enormous impact for Africa. Why? Because it inspires hope for many young Africans.”
Ahmad said he was working to win backing from European nations for Morocco’s candidacy, saying that any support would be reciprocal.
He added that a Moroccan World Cup would offer significant advantages to Europe.
“Time zones, distance, fans, they are all of interest to Europe,” as opposed to the united North American bid.
“Visa also: Europeans don’t need a visa to come to Morocco. For all of that, we think that Europe should vote for Morocco.”
– Shake up –
Last week the head of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, promised French backing, praising Morocco’s development and saying Africa deserved another World Cup given the quantity of talented players emerging from the continent.
Ahmad said CAF was supporting the five African teams who have qualified to take part in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, offering them financial and material support.
“We were part of the preparation, we can say that it was with a modest sum of money, but these are our means,” he said. “We contributed as much as $500,000 (about 407,000 euro) per team.”
Looking ahead to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN), he said that the host nation Cameroon is expected to overcome problems with preparations, including delays on building work on stadiums. He said an official report on the issues was being drawn up.
“But we have always said that seeing the will of the president (Paul Biya), everyone is going to get on with it and go ahead.
“So far, I believe that is what will materialise. How do I not believe in a head of state. Where politics goes, all must follow.”
For the first time, the 2019 CAN will be expanded from 16 teams to 24 and will be held in the northern hemisphere summer, rather than in the winter.
“That’s what people want,” said Ahmad, referring to the 24-team draw and the summer kick-off.
“For me, I have a management principle: if I’m elected it is to respond to the expectations of the stakeholders, be it the federations, the players, the coaches.
“To be in harmony with their mandate, you have to satisfy people at your base. And I think it’s justified, legitimate because there are some countries emerging in the football world that are about to shake up the established nations of African football.”
He said that the switch to summer was not fixed in stone and could be adapted for future tournaments.