Morocco World Cup bid chief Hicham el Amrani talks to ESPN
RABAT, Morocco -- The hosts of the 2026 World Cup will be decided on June 13 when 207 FIFA members will vote either for the joint U.S., Mexico and Canada bid or for Morocco, which is making its fifth attempt to stage the tournament.
ESPN FC has spoken exclusively to Hicham el Amrani, chief executive of the Morocco 2026 bid committee, about the country's prospects, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of its campaign, the potential influence of U.S. president Donald Trump and why the North African nation is ready to host the World Cup.
ESPN FC: Morocco is taking on formidable opponents for the right to host the 2026 World Cup, so how can you win and why is there growing confidence within your campaign that you will win?
El Amrani: You know, it's not about comparing the level of stadium infrastructure that makes a candidate better to host a World Cup or not. We know the quality of infrastructure the Americans have, which is obvious, but what makes us confident is the progress that Morocco has made over the last 20-30 years, economically, socially, politically and in terms of sporting development.
We believe we have reached the stage where we can have the opportunity to stage a World Cup and further boost that development, using football not just as a sporting festival, but also to transform people's lives. We very often say that football transforms peoples' lives, but sometimes we don't know how or say what that means. This is exactly what a Moroccan bid means. It gives a strong opportunity to an entire population and entire continent in terms of confidence, commitment and ability to host, just as South Africa did in 2010, when a lot of people were questioning their ability to deliver, but they delivered beautifully.
We are confident because the congress is voting, the world is voting, and it's up to us to have the ability to showcase what Morocco is about and highlight our concept and strengths. It is not about saying that the stadiums will be bigger than the North American ones. It's about what the World Cup represents to us and to an entire continent and about the values of welcoming people.
ESPN FC: The Morocco bid would cover one time zone, with internal flights between venues no longer than an hour and 15 minutes. It promises a more intimate tournament, so is this Morocco's greatest strength?
El Amrani: I cannot say whether it is the best bid or not. That is a FIFA regulation. But when you talk about "intimate", I would agree with that. It is not only about being "intimate", it is about making the bid the focus of two categories of people who are very often forgotten when you have a major event.
The first group are the players. Number one. Without the players, you don't have a product. Players that have to travel such short distances and have team camps very close to the stadiums, with the critical infrastructure which already exists with international airports, high-speed trains, roads, it just makes it easier for them. It is a fact that players who travel less are able to rest more and if they rest more, they should play better. It's just a logical thing.
The second critical group are the fans. Obviously, the longer the distances to travel, the more expensive it will be for them. But due to the level of development we have -- we are an emerging country -- the offer we have in terms of accommodation and tourist destination caters for different costs and different budgets. Whether it is a five- or six-star hotel or traditional housing, that is what we believe will provide that intimate experience.
ESPN FC: Is Morocco big enough and does it have the necessary facilities to host a 48-team World Cup, having failed to win the right to host previous, smaller World Cups?
El Amrani: The evolution of the country, since our last bid in 2003 to now, has seen the GDP multiply by 2.5 times, and tourism by three, so we have learned from past bids. This is Morocco's fifth bid and it cannot be compared to previous ones because the entire landscape has changed.
The critical vision of FIFA is that the World Cup becomes a platform to help inspire the most critical changes in society. The World Cup allows us, as an emerging nation, to move towards greater development and that is what is beautiful about the tournament. Being passionate about football does not make you a good host. That is not enough. It is a great thing to be, but if you live and breathe football, that will make the World Cup fantastic.
ESPN FC: Could Donald Trump prove to be one of the greatest assets for the Morocco bid due to the current global political climate and, most notably, his recent reference to "s---hole countries" in the emerging world?
El Amrani: I cannot answer that question because I am only focusing on our leadership and our bid. There is nothing I can say other than we are focusing on our qualities. But what I can say is that we do not want to win because of others, but rather thanks to the quality of what we do and the convincing that we do. That's what is most important for us.
ESPN FC: You have to convince at least 104 associations to vote for Morocco 2026, so would you prefer to be respected or underestimated by your rivals?
El Amrani: I hope to be respected. Whether we are underestimated or not is really up to them to say. When we started this bid, we went full steam ahead, regardless of the opponent, because we believe in our strengths and the concept that we have. We believe in our right to host it, as long as we are convincing and that we provide strong-enough security and guarantees. You know, those guarantees on top of the safety and other important matters such as security and so on, the government is 100 percent -- 150 percent -- behind this bid.
We will use the opportunity to build six new hospitals, and renovate about 18-19 others. Those are opportunities that could be provided to Morocco if it has the opportunity to build those projects. The World Cup allows for boosting the implementation of those projects and this is why we work with commitment and motivation.
ESPN FC: What would it mean, to you, Morocco and Africa to win the right to host the 2026 World Cup?
El Amrani: I am just one soldier among the huge team that accompanies the bid, which is supported by a whole country and a whole continent, but it would be a dream come true. I am passionate about football and I have seen, from my previous experiences in Asia and Africa, the power of football in terms of transforming situations from an economical and social point of view. I am a strong believer in the power of the World Cup.
I don't think I ever missed a Morocco game, at a World Cup regardless of the time zone, because it is something special for me. 1986 was my first World Cup. We finished top of the group and played Germany in the second round. I remember, after we went out, that there were maybe 2 million people on the streets celebrating Morocco's achievement of reaching the second round.
It was just amazing. This is where I get the injection of the passion, because when you see people crying with joy, or your own dad running around like crazy and crying with joy, it makes it so special.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_