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ESPN FC  By ESPN

FIFA must let Morocco World Cup bid reach vote to avoid impropriety - official

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tells Gab Marcotti about his hopes that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups change negative perceptions of Russia and Qatar.
ICC organizer Charlie Stillitano suggests Morocco's late 2026 World Cup bid is no match for the North American joint bid.

Morocco's bid to host the 2026 World Cup must be allowed to reach the final vote without being disqualified in order to avoid any questions about the selection process, according to a senior FIFA official Reinhard Grindel.

Morocco is considered an underdog to the joint bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada, and the country's bid leaders have already voiced fears that FIFA inspectors could disqualify them from the June vote by giving insufficient marks to their tournament plans.

FIFA's inspection of Morocco's plans ended last week with questions about infrastructure, and investigators returned this week to scrutinise the country's plans.

Grindel, a FIFA council member from Germany, told the Associated Press that inspectors must avoid disqualifying the Morocco bid in order to prevent any conspiracy theories from taking hold.

"If there are only two [candidates], the congress must have the chance to vote," said Grindel, president of the German federation which will help elect the host on June 13 in Moscow. "We don't need any rumours in such a process."

He said kicking out one of the bidders would mean "there always will be a rumour about the background of such a decision."

A FIFA spokesperson strongly rejected claims that president Gianni Infantino is interfering in the process to prevent Morocco's bid from coming to a vote.

"The process is as fair, objective and transparent as it can get as demonstrated with the publication of the bid books, all bidding documents and the scoring system," the spokesperson said. "The task force's assessment is guided by clear and objective criteria and its report will be made public to guarantee full transparency of the process.

"The FIFA president is not involved in this process and he will not take part in the vote of the congress. These are facts and not unfounded allegations."

The governing body changed its selection process for World Cup bids after the 2010 vote, in which a now-discredited executive committee picked Russia and Qatar as future hosts against the advice of FIFA-appointed advisers who had flagged both as the highest-risk options.

Since then, FIFA has put together a task force to visit and grade candidates on a list of criteria, and empowered it to disqualify any bid averaging less than 2 on a scale of 0 to 5.

Morocco needs to build or renovate 14 stadiums and more than 100 training fields while the North American bid has already selected 16 tournament-ready venues and has a surplus of team bases.

Still, Morocco has support beyond Africa despite predicting ticket sales to fans totalling $1.3 billion less than the North American bid projects.

More than 200 member nations will be take part in the open vote, with each federation's choice made public that same day.

Grindel said Germany would not decide before reading the evaluation from the task force.

"I think the task force must give a very clear report and must give all the [voters] a clear statement which bid is perhaps better," he said, adding that each federation should have to "explain why they are voting for a bidder who is not in the eyes of the experts able to host such a World Cup.

"I couldn't believe that the outcome of such a vote would be that the not-qualified bidder will win.

Meanwhile, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura has rejected claims she has broken the governing body's rules by failing to declare a conflict of interest in the increasingly bitter race to host the 2026 World Cup.

According to the BBC, Samoura has been reported to FIFA's ethics committee for not mentioning that she is related to ex-footballer and Senegalese compatriot El Hadji Diouf, who is now acting as an ambassador for Morocco's 2026 bid.

The BBC report said the unspecified family link was discovered by the FIFA World Cup evaluation task force during its recent visit to the North African country and both the 55-year-old former United Nations official and Diouf, who played for several British clubs during a controversial career, are now subject to ethics complaints.

But in a statement, Samoura said: "These claims against me are totally ridiculous and baseless. El Hadji Diouf is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear. There is nothing to discuss further."

Information from The Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.

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