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 By PA Sport

FIFA's Fatma Samoura dismisses ethics breach claim over El Hadji Diouf link

With 100 days to go until the FIFA World Cup, Ian Darke joins a group of ESPN writers and experts for a roundtable discussion about what to expect in Russia this summer.

FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura has angrily rejected claims she has broken the governing body's rules by failing to declare a conflict of interest in the 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 taskforce 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 including Liverpool, are now subject to ethics complaints.

But in a statement released to Press Association Sport, 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."

While this claim of a conflict of interest may seem trivial, the tension surrounding the 2026 bidding contest is of growing significance.

The joint bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States has been the favourite since rumours of a "United bid" first emerged more than two years ago, and its front-runner status was underlined in January 2017 when FIFA confirmed plans to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48.

With 60 of the games scheduled for the U.S., the United bid offers FIFA world-class venues that are already built, huge ticket sales and access to the world's largest market -- a compelling argument for an organisation that funds most of its activities from this tournament.

Morocco, on the other hand, offers a more compact event, passion for the game and a European-friendly time zone, but there is no disputing the fact that it would generate less money and its infrastructure needs significant investment.

It is widely believed that FIFA president Gianni Infantino favours the North American bid and he has been accused in recent weeks of trying to stop the Moroccan bid from getting to the ballot in Moscow on June 13, when 207 member associations are meant to cast their votes.

Moroccan bid leaders and their African allies have complained about late changes to the bid criteria and process which they claim have been made to trip up the bid.

For example, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag has recently reported that FIFA increased the number of stadiums each bid needs right now from four to six just before the bid documents were due. Morocco has five existing stadiums and plans to build nine more, including five "modular" venues that can be dismantled later.

PA Sport reports that the Moroccan bid believes it would have a strong case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport if it is excluded from the final vote.

But in a statement, a FIFA spokesperson strongly rejected the claims that Infantino is interfering in the process.

"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."

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