No one can deny that most Moroccans love football, our obsession with it is very palpable. Whenever a major football game is aired such us the UEFA Champions League matches or one of our national team’s games, thousands of people rush to cafés and stadiums to watch the games. Millions of dirhams are spent every year on bets, TV subscriptions and stadium tickets to fuel Moroccans’ passion of football. This love relationship with football is apparently pushing us towards making foolish and stupid decisions such as organizing a world cup.
Morocco has submitted bids for organizing the world cup four times before 2026’s bid. All those attempts were obviously unsuccessful, but our country was able to win the right to organize many other international and continental football events such as the FIFA Club World cup in 2013 and 2014, the African Nations Championship and the African Cup of Nations. During the bid period for organizing the World Cup in 2010, Morocco had a considerable chance to win against South Africa but later on it was revealed that corruption and manipulation were allegedly involved to choose South Africa as a winner.
My goal while writing this article is to prove how organizing an international event such as the world cup is an economic and social mistake motivated by the “need” for our state to promote a positive image of Morocco and for other political motives.
15,6% of the GDP will be spent to organize the world cup
Moulay Hafid El Alamy, who’s the president of the organizing committee, has announced during a press conference that Morocco will have to spend more than 15,8 billion dollars to organize the FIFA World Cup in 2026. This figure is amazingly high knowing that it represents more than a quarter of the Moroccan GDP in 2016 (We spend less than 6% on public health by the way). This price tag can be justified by the fact that Morocco will have to build new stadiums, hospitals and infrastructure for the country. While some may argue that these investments will help Morocco in terms of developing its economy and infrastructure, our country will have to increase its budgetary deficits in order to accomplish that. This means that Morocco will have to resort to public and international debt instead of pushing for meaningful and effective economic policies. An investment such as this might have been more effective in case of serious strategic plans in different sectors of the economy that will repair some of the structural problems that our economy is facing.
The problem doesn’t lie in the costs related to building infrastructure, it lies in the costs related to maintaining it especially when it comes to huge stadiums, hospitals, roads, railways and more. Most developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa are facing those problems nowadays with the rise of ghost stadiums and other facilities that didn’t find a suitable business model to sustain the costs. The argument that Morocco is using the World Cup as an opportunity to enhance infrastructure in Morocco is maybe true, although this shows the lack of strategic planning of the Moroccan authorities. We can safely assume that if it weren’t for this worldwide event, the projects announced won’t have been launched. One clear example is that the recent movements of mass protests that demanded better public health services and infrastructure were met with false promises and failed projects.
One aspect that is highlighted by the Moroccan committee is the revenues that our country will be able to get from organizing this event. The committee said that more than 2,7 billion dollars will be generated as economic benefits as well as 110,000 jobs between 2019 and 2027. First, the revenues that were mentioned won’t even be able to cover the expenditure that the Moroccan government will have to support. The hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created will mostly be related to the event and the building of facilities which means that they’ll be temporary jobs. Second, the estimations made by the bidding committee are highly optimistic with an average 90% attendance forecasted.
Modular stadiums are a major point defended by Morocco as a way to reduce costs and develop stadiums that can be dissembled after the use. In fact, LMS technology consists of building easily removable grandstands to existing stadiums. Morocco will still have to build new stadiums, and then use modular grandstands to extend the capacities in order to meet the requirement set by the FIFA. This means Morocco will have to build 6 new LMS stadiums in cities such as Ouarzazate and Meknes where football clubs are not that developed. Those stadiums have a greater risk to be “white elephants” in the future. Finally, Morocco is expecting revenue from tourists who will attend world cup matches. The experience in South Africa and Brazil is a clear example of how the host country received a lower number of tourists than expected. Tourists revenue is also not a stable revenue stream for our country. After the international event, tourism-related businesses will notice a sharp decrease in their economic activity.
While I agree that some positive repercussions will be felt in Morocco if we win the 2026 world cup bid, I believe that most of the effects will be limited in time. The economic investment will not fix structural problems in our economy, and thus guarantee a sustained development of the different sectors of our economy. I also believe that a developing country should not be given the opportunity of organizing a world cup if it means going into debt and ignoring essential social and economic aspects just for the sake of organizing an international event. Economically, the idea of Morocco organizing the world cup in 2026 makes no sense. Politically, it might justify this madness. Morocco has a political motive of making the country more open and present in the international community, especially to gain “friends” to support the Moroccan Sahara case. Organizing an event as major as this draws the spotlights on the hosting country, and this might play well with the geopolitical goals of Morocco. But again, at what price?
Decision-makers should understand that Morocco needs deep economic, social and political reforms and strategies to guarantee a steady and precise development in the future. We do not need superficial solutions that may fix our problems for the next 5 or 10 years. Unless decision-makers want our country to be mentally distracted for 5 or 10 years which seems to me as the real reason behind this kind of events. Football is the opium of the people, so why not use it?