Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Why Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia will not launch a joint 2030 World Cup Bid

Morocco- CAF Champions League
A football match between Morocco’s Fat’h Union Sport and Algeria’s MO Bejaia. Photo AFP

In 2010, South Africa was the first African country ever to host the World Cup, but for more than 24 years, another African state has consistently pursued to welcome the popular FIFA event on the African continent: Morocco. Yet the country’s most recent World Cup bid, for the 2026 tournament – the kingdom’s fifth attempt so far – has failed again.

The country already competed to host the event in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 but only got close to a success in the final vote for the 2010 tournament, which was eventually won by its South African rival. As Morocco has significantly upgraded its sporting and tourist infrastructure since its first bid in 1994, winning the most recent competition was within the realms of possibility. But instead, Morocco had lost the final round of voting once again, this time against the joint North American bid, composed of the United States, Mexico and Canada by a landslide of 134 against 65 votes, only one day before the kick-off of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Immediately after voting results were announced, frustration and anger erupted in Morocco’s press and on social media. Eleven African and seven Arab football federations, including the ones from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon (as well as Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq) had supported the North American bid, whereas Morocco’s arch rival Algeria had backed its neighbor in the final vote.

Algeria’s outspoken support for Morocco in this regard was not a matter of course and therefore indeed surprising, as bilateral relations between both states have been severely hostile for more than five decades. There are tensions between the two North African countries over Western Sahara, a controversial pipeline project as well as migration policies. Conflicts have increased since last year and reached yet another peak in October 2017, when Algeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdelkader Messahel, accused Morocco of laundering drug money in Africa.

Nevertheless, in recent months, the governmental rhetoric of both countries has significantly shifted towards a friendlier and more accommodating tone. This is an unexpected trend that persistently fuels rumors about a possible political rapprochement of the two countries and even triggered popular support for a joint World Cup bid of the three Maghreb states Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia for the 2030 tournament. Calls for a Maghreb 2030 bid have been repeatedly raised in social media ever since and even include calls for immediately opening the Moroccan-Algerian border, which has been officially closed since 1994.

As Morocco has already announced its intention to not give up and apply again, calls for the launching of a joint Maghreb 2030 bid have not only gained support among football fans but also decision makers in North Africa.

“We haven’t received any official offer, but we’re open to the idea and would like to see it happen”, the president of the Tunisian Football Federation, Wadie Jary, said in July while Algeria’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Mohamed Hattab, announced that his government “will study a possible candidacy of the Maghreb countries” for the World Cup 2030.

Commentators like Max Gallien, a researcher focusing on Political Economy of North Africa who wrote in Middle East Eye, and others are arguing enthusiastically in favor of a joint Maghreb 2030 bid. This, Gallien writes, “would allow the Maghreb countries to spread the costs for infrastructure investments” and even boost a much needed regional integration. But although a joint hosting of such a prestigious event has indeed the potential to ease tensions between the governments in Rabat and Algiers and foster economic integration in North Africa, which is known for being the world’s most poorly integrated region, the feasibility of such a joint Maghreb bid is highly questionable.

In his article for Middle East Eye, Gallien rightly argues that a project like the World Cup would be “exactly the kind of incentive that could help to build cooperation, providing a symbolic occasion to ease tensions”. He also emphasizes that a joint Maghreb bid “would have to be substantially more inclusive than its predecessors, creating infrastructure that would continue to benefit locals after the circus moves on” in order to avoid Brazil’s and South Africa’s experience, “where lavish expenses contrasted with local poverty and set off widespread protests”.

But nevertheless, many obstacles for a proper joint planning and implementation of such a bid are considerably difficult to overcome, especially in Algeria. Even if we assume that the recent verbal rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco will not be short-lived and that political preconditions in the region are fulfilled in a sustainable manner in order to go ahead with such an initiative, other severe issues are unlikely to be solved that fast.

This applies to Algeria’s lack of sufficient transportation and tourist infrastructure and its restrictive visa policy as well as the ongoing violence in Algerian stadiums.

“While Algeria has greatly improved its infrastructure over the last 15 to 20 years, the country still severely lacks behind most modern countries in many aspects, mainly with regards to transportation, accommodation and the hospitality of the industry in general”, Walid Bylka, an Algerian sports journalist working for La Gazette du Fennec, told Fanack Chronicle. “Algeria is not a tourist destination and lacks not only the physical capacity to host a major international competition like the World Cup, but especially the expertise and technical know-how to accommodate such a large number of people for a two to three week period”, he adds.

Algeria has indeed massively upgraded its transportation infrastructure, building new highways and railway lines connecting the bigger cities in the urban north as well as tramways and even a metro in the capital Algiers. But those investments were all long overdue to meet local demand. It remains doubtful whether the government is able to continue with this large-scale modernization of Algeria’s infrastructure any longer: the low price has already severely affected government spending.

Meanwhile, Algeria is set to host the 2021 Mediterranean Games in the coastal city of Oran. A new stadium and other necessary infrastructure like accommodation and training facilities are being built right now. But Bylka is still skeptical. “The 2021 Mediterranean Games will be a big test but that event will mainly see athletes making the trip with a very limited number of fans and press attending”, he said. “The World Cup will bring the entire world: athletes, fans, press, media and sponsors.”

Algeria’s neighbour Morocco’s 2026 bid was deemed a high risk by FIFA’s evaluation committee for “stadiums, accommodation and transportation”, although the country is already a major tourist destination, with over ten million visitors per year. So Bylka indicates that a successful Algerian participation in a World Cup Bid is unlikely – at least for now.

However, he rules out that the widespread violence in Algerian stadiums ranks among the major obstacles to host such an event. “Violence in Algerian stadiums is mainly tied to club and regional rivalries, you almost never hear about violence when the national team is involved”, the journalist emphasized, adding that national team football involves international delegations and FIFA scrutiny, and that organizers and security stop at nothing to prepare accordingly.

Designing a joint bid involving all three states is challenging, which makes a successful joint Maghreb 2030 bid quite unlikely. But football diplomacy still has the potential to ease tensions in the region and might positively affect political and economic integration in the Maghreb in the near future.

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