Infantino says FIFA can afford Morocco to host 2026 WCup
ZURICH (AP) — FIFA can afford to have Morocco host the 2026 World Cup, according to President Gianni Infantino, even if the rival North American bid promises billions of dollars more in revenue.
Ahead of next week's vote by FIFA member federations in Moscow, Infantino said on Monday: "FIFA can afford whatever the congress decides."
"We have to live with that and to make the best of any decision which is taken," said the FIFA leader, who Moroccan bid leaders have publicly suspected of favoring the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid.
In a FIFA panel's evaluation of the candidates, the North American bid got the only maximum mark for its tickets and corporate hospitality sales plan.
A difference in projected ticket sales of $1.3 billion between the two bids helped lead the report to note "significantly higher" forecast revenue of $14.3 billion from North Americans and $7.2 billion from Morocco.
"Money is one element (but) not the only element" in the report, Infantino said, revealing that FIFA will top $6 billion income during the four-year financial period for the 2018 World Cup.
The evaluation team also emphasized a significant overall risk posed by Morocco's plan to build or renovate all of its stadiums, almost all team training sites, and many hotels.
"What our task has been is to make sure the process is as objective, as clear as possible, and to highlight the pros and the cons of everything," Infantino said.
Up to 207 voting federations, many of whom rely on the $1.5 million annual grant promised by FIFA over the next four years, can ignore the panel's work.
Infantino would not be drawn on whether U.S. President Donald Trump's public comments could be a factor in the June 13 poll — either driving voters toward Morocco, or winning them with veiled threats of consequences for countries not supporting the American bid. FIFA will publish how federations voted.
"I hope when they vote they think what is best for football, definitely not on other subjective criteria that they might have for themselves," Infantino said.
FIFA is heavily focused on two future World Cups at its annual congress even before the 2018 tournament kicks off one day later.
Infantino will ask members for permission to open talks on adding 16 more teams to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Hosting 48 teams could mean sharing games with other Middle East nations to find up to four extra stadiums Qatar currently does not plan to build.
"Whether this is possible to be done only in Qatar, of course, is a question mark," Infantino acknowledged, adding Qatar was never formally asked to host a 48-team event alone.
Any consultation on the 2022 World Cup must reach a decision by FIFA's June 2019 congress, he said. The one-year deadline would begin during a blockade of Qatar begun one year ago by regional rivals including Saudi Arabia, who in that time have seemed more influential in FIFA's business.
"I think I have good relations with everyone in the (Gulf) region because I focus on football, and not on politics," Infantino said.
However, Infantino insisted his Club World Cup proposal — part of a $25 billion offer by unidentified investors to back new FIFA competitions — was "nothing to do with Saudi Arabia."
He said other investors have approached now it is known FIFA could enter a 12-year partnership with commercial interests to run the club event, and a global Nations League.
"It's fantastic," Infantino said. "We should be proud and happy for that. We need to get away in FIFA from having just one tournament, one month, every four years and thinking that this is enough to develop football in the world."
The $25 billion offer is on hold until after a Russian World Cup that Infantino said has only "minor, minor things" left to organize.
"I have never seen a country that has done so much for welcoming the fans as Russia is doing," he said.