KEIR RADNEDGE in MARRAKECH —- Unrest has been revealed from within FIFA Council over the powers of the evaluation panel appointed to check out the 2026 World Cup bids from Morocco and United States/Canada/Mexico.

The World Cup bidding system was redesigned in the reforms which followed scandals over the selection in 2010 of Russia and Qatar to host the finals tournaments both this year and in 2022 respectively.

A final decision reverted to the old format of a vote in congress instead of within the executive committee (now council) and the make-up of the evaluation panel was altered. Unlike in the 2018/2022 procedure the taskforce no longer includes any political delegates but solely comprises men – all five are men – effectively appointed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.*

CAF president Ahmad . . . fighting his corner

All along Infantino has insisted that this time around the process must be “bullet proof” but the evaluation panel is now coming under increasing political gunfire ahead of the decisive vote in Moscow on June 13, the eve of the 2018 Opening Match.

Infantino is considered to be privately favourable to the United 2026 bid and these suspicions were strengthened when FIFA barred Morocco from presenting its bid to the African confederation congress in January.

CAF confusion

Anger at perceived interference from ‘FIFA Central’ erupted because the desist order was issued just an hour before the scheduled presentation and in the same week that United 2026 leaders presented their own rival credentials to leaders of the southern African COSAFA grouping.

FIFA rushed out a retrospective clarification about promotional and presentation activities but too late: the damage had been done.

Suspicions about the taskforce agenda in the Francophone world increased after details emerged of the assessment which derogated an effective power of bid rejection to the taskforce.

This prompted, according to reports in the Francophone media, a row in FIFA Council two weeks ago in Bogota. CAF president Ahmad questioned the apparently new powers of the taskforce, prompting a vote on the authority of the panel.

A vote produced 17 in favour while the six African delegates present voted against. American Sunil Gulati and Canadian Victor Montagliani (FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF supremo) recused themselves while the eight European delegates abstained.

While the vote confirmed the work and power of the evaluation taskforce it could not be described as a vote of great confidence.

This, of course, suits outsider Morocco whose bid officials – as reported here previously – have always viewed the evaluation as crucial. While United 2026 can point to great strength in the power of infrastructure already in place, the Moroccans believe they are developing a solid groundswell of voting support.

** The evaluation taskforce comprises joint deputy secretary-generals Marco Villiger and Zvonimir Boban, audit chair Tomaz Vesel, governance chair Mukul Mudgal (India) and competitions committee delegate Ilco Gjorgioski (Macedonia).