The rival World Cup 2026 bids of Morocco and the US, Mexico and Canada met the presidents of the Nordic football associations to present their cases. The press was mostly interested in Donald Trump’s twitter habits.
By Lars Johnsen
The reception area of a hotel adjacent to Copenhagen Airport was packed with what what seemed to be hundreds of travellers with two pieces of luggage each. Upstairs, and away from the crowd, five presidents of the football associations of the Nordic countries convened on the morning of Thursday 3 May. Inside one of the hotel’s many conference rooms – each room named after a Norse mythology character – delegations from the bid committees of the competing bids for the 2026 World Cup presented their cases.
Morocco kicked off the proceedings in the Balder 2 meeting room in front of Karl-Erik Nilsson of Sweden, Guðni Bergsson of Iceland, Jesper Møller of Denmark, Terje Svendsen of Norway and Ari Lahti of Finland.
The Faroese FA president Christian F. Andreassen was absent due to other obligations.
Morocco 2026 would not take questions from the media, the press was told by a representative from the Danish FA, who organised the event. A move quickly declared a Moroccan own goal by the press. It prompted some of the waiting journalists to speculate. Did Morocco 2026 want to avoid questions regarding the country’s ban on homosexuality, or about Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara?
After the presentation to the heads of the FAs, CEO of the Morocco 2026 bid, Hicham El Amrani, appeared in front of the press where he gave a summary of what he’d presented to the presidents.
The geographical distance to Europe, with everything that entails, was his strongest message – underscored by El Amrani’s own very recent experience. He’d flown in the night before.
“Direct from Casablanca to Copenhagen. Four hours,” he said.
Devoid of a big screen where he could shoot up his powerpoint presentation, and without the possibility for the media to ask questions, it all felt flat.
We couldn’t ask what he thought of Donald Trump’s tweet on 27 April, which could be read as a threat to countries to back the United bid
“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?,” the 45 tweeted.
Could this mean that smaller nations under heavy American influence seriously considering voting for Morocco just won’t do so after Trump’s statement?
The press was denied asking El Amrani about his thoughts on this, or about his reaction to the recent story involving FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura.
Just after the FIFA evaluation task force had left Morocco, after having carried through an inspection of the country, task force members Tomaž Vesel and Marco Villiger had filed a complaint against Samoura – who has Diouf as one of her names – to the FIFA’s ethics committee. She had, according to the claim, failed to declare a conflict of interest since the Senegalese ex-footballer El Hadji Diouf is a Morocco 2026 ambassador and is, as the task force members claimed, related to Samoura. The two are not related. FIFA closed the case.
If the Morocco 2026 bid thinks the Samoura claim was part of a smear campaign, we were not allowed to ask.
The United bid had no such “no questions policy”. Instead the three delegates, Decio de Maria, president of the Mexican FA, US Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro and Peter Montopoli, the general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, entered the podium. They were happy to answer questions, both during the press conference and in one-on-ones.
“Hopefully the congress in June will decide that our bid is the winning one,” de Maria said.
As soon as the session was open for questions from the press, Donald Trump’s tweet came up.
“It was a surprise to us that he said what he said. But it was not a surprise that he would be involved. The issue [of the content of the tweet] hasn’t come up, it didn’t come up in Asia,” USSF president Carlos Cordeiro, who had arrived in Copenhagen from Jakarta after visiting several cities in the far east, said.
“Donald Trump’s tweet was by many seen as a threat to make nations vote for the United bid. In a state visit from the president of Nigeria he also brought up the matter of the World Cup vote. Are you afraid FIFA will look at that as political interference?,” Josimar asked.
“Our bid is supported by our governments, that’s not interference, that’s a requirement that FIFA asks for. It’s well within the rights of our heads of state to speak up on our behalf if that’s what they choose to. There’s a fine line between speaking up on behalf of a bid and taking it to the next level, as you’re suggesting, but look, the Moroccan government is fully behind their bid, as you’d expect. [Everyone] from the king to every ambassador around the world has been around pitching on behalf of Morocco. Is that interference? I don’t think so. I’m just saying our governments are behind us. I’d expect them to speak up if they choose to. I think it’s a good thing that my head of state is as focused and committed to this event and to football – to soccer – as he appears to be,” Cordeiro said.
Canadian FA general secretary Peter Montopoli pointed out to Josimar that both the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau too had voiced their support for the bid via twitter.
Their tweets could not be interpreted as threats, though.
“A long time in politics”
In the coffee bar area outside the conference rooms of the hotel, free copies of the international edition of the US daily newspaper USA Today were lying around. The paper’s lead story on 25 April was headlined “Hondurans fear being forced out”. A sizeable number of people originating from Honduras live in the United States under the legal status “Temporary Protected Status”, a government programme being phased out by the Trump administration. People from four countries – Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan and El Salvador – have already lost this spesial status. Honduras is likely to follow. People have to “return” to countries some of them haven’t even visited.
Josimar asked Montopoli, a Canadian of Italian extraction, and Cordeiro, whose family name reveals a Portuguese background, if Trump’s policies and rhetoric when it comes to immigration, and the words used to describe certain peoples, will hurt their bid.
“It has not come up, and I mean that. You can ask the Nordic associations, it didn’t come up today, and hasn’t come up in any of our conversations. We like to make the point that it is the three of us together, unified, and unified in more that one way. The unity the bid represents, when we talk about football, we don’t talk about walls or barriers. We talk about playing each other. Ultimately the associations will focus on that, and not the politics of today. From now to 2026, it’s a long time in politics. A week is a long time in politics, let alone eight years,” Cordeiro answered as the proceedings were wrapped up, in time for the United bid delegation to board a flight to Dubai.
The Nordic presidents unanimously declared the two competing bids as “very good candidates” after hearing the presentations.
“I hadn’t looked at the bids before. I was impressed by the seriousness of the bids”, the Finnish FA president, Ari Lahti said.
The main selling points of the Moroccan bid is its compactness and its location close to Europe. No change of timezones or intercontinental flights needed for the players in between matches.
“It’s convenient, timezonewise. They had a convincing bid, as did the North Americans. It was interesting and informative from both”, the president of the Icelandic FA, Guðni Bergsson, said. Bergsson is perhaps better known in the football world as a former Bolton and Tottenham player with 80 caps for his home country.
The Nordic presidents will now relay the information and their impressions back to their respective boards before they decide whom to vote for.
The Nordics will not vote as a bloc. The six Nordic votes (including the Faroe Islands who were not present in Copenhagen) could be split between the two bidders.
The issue of sexual-orientation equality has been on the rise in Scandinavia in recent years. Clubs, with the backing of the FAs, have installed rainbow-coloured corner flags, used rainbow-coloured captain’s armbands and even full kits. Will the homosexuality ban in Morocco come into play when the Nordics vote?
“We grade everything in a bid, also how a country works when it comes to transparency and human rights”, Sweden’s Karl-Erik Nilsson said.
Regarding Donald Trump’s tweet and mentioning the World Cup vote in a state visit from Nigeria, the Norwegian FA president Terje Svendsen, said it was “on the one hand understandable that the event is supported politically.”
“The government is required by FIFA to come up with guarantees. But if political horse-trading, or such, goes on, that wouldn’t be in line with the regulations.”
Although the Donald Trump tweet has been viewed by some as a threat, Svendsen’s Danish counterpart, Jesper Møller, is unaffected.
“I’ve not felt threatened, I’ve not felt influenced. We do not feel pressured. But in our countries we have a broad definition of freedom of speech. What we do not have a tradition for is the prime minister calling the FA president to express his views on a matter,” Møller said
In recent weeks, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has come up with several proposals and ideas, like expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams. Terje Svendsen is not a fan.
“That’s too early. Such things need planning.”
He has not had the chance to discuss in detail the other Infantino-proposed tournaments, a 24-team club World Cup and the Global Nations League.
“A deciding factor for Europe is how this will fit into the European match calendar.”