Morocco has formally announced that it is to challenge a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico for the right to host the 2026 Fifa World Cup.
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) confirmed its intention to enter the race for the tournament on Friday, just hours before a Fifa deadline for expressions of interest.
Morocco’s bid - its fifth attempt following failed efforts for the 1994, 1998, 2006, and 2010 editions - has the support of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which gave its backing in July following the election of new president Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar.
If successful, Morocco would become the second African nation to host a World Cup, after South Africa staged the tournament in 2010.
The North African country’s bid is, however, considered an outsider to land 2026, with the United States, Canada and Mexico, who launched their joint bid in April, already boasting much of the infrastructure required to host the largest World Cup ever.
Fifa’s showpiece event will be expanded from 32 to 48 teams in 2026 as part of changes to the tournament's format announced earlier this year.
Leaders of the United Bid, as the North American effort is known, acknowledged Morocco’s entry into the race on Friday, with US Soccer president Sunil Gulati welcoming the competition.
“We’ve always been prepared for the fact that other countries could also decide to bid for the 2026 Fifa World Cup,” said Gulati. “Competition is good, and overall it shows the value and importance of the World Cup.”
Gulati added that the North American bid team will “provide an update on the number of cities” across all three countries that are interested in staging matches. The United bid has already announced that it plans to stage 60 matches in the US, with Canada and Mexico hosting ten games each.
Both bids now have until 16th March 2018 to formally submit their proposals to Fifa for consideration. A decision on whether one of the bids will be accepted will then be made at next June’s Fifa Congress in Moscow.
Should Fifa decide not to accept a proposal, the bidding process could be re-opened to other countries ahead of a final decision in 2020.
Only countries from the Americas, Africa and Oceania are eligible to submit bids for the 2026 World Cup. European and Asian nations are not permitted to run due to Fifa's rotational hosting policy, with Russia and Qatar hosting the next two editions in 2018 and 2022 respectively.