The day before the FIFA World Cup 2018 began, all news outlets were awash with how the United States, Canada and Mexico had won a joint bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Morocco, who were the contenders, failed, yet again. The major reason for Morocco always failing to secure the rights to host a FIFA World Cup is because of its checkered African history. Past transgressions still haunt the North African nation, dampening and scuppering its World Cup hopes every time.
This is now the fifth time that Morocco's bid to host the World Cup has ended in dejection. They tried to rally a "Time for Africa" message but this would not move the nations that are always in vociferous opposition to Morocco hosting the World Cup. This year they are in Russia at the 2018 World Cup, and their start opened with a loss to Iran.
Morocco garnered 65 votes, compared to the 134 votes amassed by the United bid (the joint bid of the United States, Mexico and Canada). 11 African nations voted against Morocco, which proved costly for the North Africans. It was detrimental for Morocco, to have any chance of winning the 104 votes required for a simple majority, Morocco needed the 54 votes held by Africa’s federations. The 11 countries are Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
One may wonder why fellow African nations can deny Morocco such crucial support. The antagonism stems from a tainted history that Morocco has with other African nations, which also includes its general negative attitude towards black Africans. The territorial dispute with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, also known as Western Sahara, is a bone of contention with many African nations.
Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 and in essence the latter is a colony of the former because of the former's defiant claims on it. South Africa in particular has had a strained relationship with Morocco. In 2004, South Africa recognized the independence of Western Sahara and this was a major reason why it did not support Morocco's bid. Namibia followed South Africa's path, saying, "it will never support nor align itself with a colonizer" in reference to Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara.
The issue of Western Sahara has always been a thorny one in terms of Morocco's relations with other African nations. After a 33-year absence from the African Union because of the matter, Morocco rejoined the continental bloc in January 2017, although the re-admission was voted against by 15 of the 54 member states of the AU. And under King Mohammed VI, Morocco has been making a spirited attempt at altering its foreign policy,now marked by a strong charm offensive across the whole continent.
Because of this, Morocco is also looking to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the changed foreign policy is punctuated with state visits by the King, seeking and signing bilateral deals with several sub-Saharan countries. However, critics only see this as being opportunistic.
The most controversial issue with Morocco came in January 2015 when the country pulled out of hosting the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) because of ebola outbreaks in some African countries. That same year, it hosted the FIFA Club World Cup. Morocco wanted a postponement to June due to fears of the ebola outbreak, but CAF rejected this. CAF suspended Morocco from two editions of the competition and fined the country $1 million but a Court of Arbitration ruling reduced the fine to $50,000 and scrapped the ban.
Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were the worst hit by Ebola, voted against Morocco. Even if all these 11 countries had voted in support of the North African country, the majority would not have been acquired. But all this can be gleaned to give Morocco some important lessons.
It was reported that the King wants Morocco to launch a bid for 2030, but without an appreciation of these deep-seated issues emanating from a not-so-clean history that Morocco has, and without redressing them, it will just be another futile attempt that will leave Morocco with an egg on its face, again.
There are certain attitudes towards Sub-Saharan Africa that Morocco may need to change. They must also dispel the notion that they are very opportunistic and want to use the "Africa" tag only when it suits them.