- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2018

Morocco received its latest 2026 World Cup vote pledge from a government minister on the Caribbean island of Dominica, despite FIFA rules prohibiting political interference in national soccer associations.

FIFA also bars votes being linked to development projects but, according to the Moroccan government announcement on the bid endorsement, Dominica now hopes to expand intergovernmental ties with the north African nation, including in agriculture and student scholarships.

Dominica is overlooking the bid from its CONCACAF counterparts in North America - the United States, Canada and Mexico - in order to back Morocco in the June vote of FIFA’s membership.

“On behalf of Dominica, I am pleased to announce the support of my country for Morocco in the organization of the 2026 World Cup,” foreign minister Francine Baron said after meeting with a Moroccan diplomat.

There was no similar announcement endorsing Morocco from Dominica’s soccer federation, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Thursday.

FIFA’s statutes demand national soccer associations are “independent and avoid any form of political interference.” World soccer’s governing body, which has previously suspended federations if there is evidence of government interference, did not respond to questions about the ethics of Dominica’s endorsement coming via a minister.

Baron was pictured on a Moroccan government website holding a bid document with Abderrahim Kadmiri, Morocco’s ambassador to nearby Saint Lucia. The government website published material provided by the state agency saying the meeting to discuss a World Cup vote was also used for talks about enhancing “bilateral cooperation” between Morocco and Dominica.

“Baron hailed the strong ties between the two countries in several areas, notably agriculture and tourism, saying she is confident there are still some sectors where this cooperation can be further strengthened,” the report said on the Moroccan communications ministry website.

Referencing scholarships given by Morocco for students from Dominica, the ministry said Baron hopes “to expand this program of cooperation to include other areas.”

FIFA’s regulations for World Cup bidding feature a warning about “refraining from accepting any kind of support or development program or further initiative containing any kind of financial or commercially beneficial contributions to single or multiple members of the football community which may unduly affect the integrity of the bidding procedure.”

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote to all member associations in January to caution that “the integrity of the bidding procedure would be seriously jeopardized” if there are attempts “to influence the result of the bidding procedure by entering into collaborations or collusions with other officials seeking to link their vote with other affairs or bidding processes unrelated to the merits of the submitted bids.”

When the bid books were published last month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino demanded the “highest standards in terms of ethical conduct” from contenders after criticism of the 2010 vote for the hosts of the World Cups in 2018 and 2022.

Bonita Mersiades, a former official with Australia’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, expressed concern about the manner of Dominica’s support for Morocco.

“The fact that the Dominican government is publicly supporting a World Cup bid outside of its own confederation on the basis of bilateral relations with the Moroccan Government does the Moroccan bid no favors,” Mersiades told the AP. “Surely by now football associations, bidders, governments and other stakeholders realize that development assistance (and) legacy projects … have no place in a bidding contest that should be assessed on the basis of merit and, ultimately, what is best for football.”

The Morocco bid’s London-based communications team declined to comment on specifics about the Dominica endorsement.

Morocco has failed with four previous World Cup bids. The United States, which hopes to stage 60 of the 80 games in 2026, hosted the World Cup in 1994.


Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports


More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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