A battle royal -- the World Cup 2026 campaign for Gulf support

In a conference call with the media on Monday, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said that "geopolitics" -- anti-Donald Trump sentiments -- wouldn't impact the 2026 World Cup bid campaign pitting the USA, Canada and Mexico against Morocco.

But international politics -- the Gulf feud -- are certainly a factor in the hotly contested battle for votes, in particular among the members of the West Asian Football Federation: Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Morocco is expected to get the support of much of Africa but it likely needs considerable support across Asia to have a chance to topple the United 2026 bid.

Morocco's problem? In recent days, Turki al-Sheikh, a royal court adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who visited the White House on Tuesday, and the chairman of Saudi Arabia's Sports Authority, has issued a series of tweets that appear to be critical of Morocco, which is viewed as neutral or pro-Qatar in the feud between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain on the other.

"To be in the grey area is no longer acceptable to us," al-Sheikh said, adding that Saudi Arabia would vote in its own best interests.

The economic blockade by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on Qatar is in its 10th month. They have accused Qatar of being pro-Iran and supporting "terrorism," which Qatar denies.

Soccer politics within West Asia make the situation even more complicated, to say the least.

The president of the Asia Football Confederation is Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, and the president of the West Asia Football Federation is Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, a member of Jordan’s royal family.

Sheikh Salman and Prince Ali ran for FIFA president in 2016. With the support of much of Africa and Asia, Sheikh Salman was considered the favorite but ultimately defeated by Gianni Infantino, the current president. U.S. Soccer voted for Prince Ali, a close friend of former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, then switched to Infantino on the second round.

To add yet another twist, Prince Ali's sister is Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, who is married to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai as well as one of the world’s richest men.

Prince Ali has been outspoken about the need for change, and the New York Times reported in 2017 that Princess Haya, who ran Prince Ali's reform campaign, hired a British firm in an ongoing effort to investigate and uncover corruption within soccer.

Within soccer politics, Prince Ali would likely be inclined to support the USA, Canada and Mexico while Sheikh Salman would favor Morocco. But Gulf politics -- "The interest of Saudi Arabia is above all," in al-Sheikh's words  -- will likely trump all that.

1 comment about "A battle royal -- the World Cup 2026 campaign for Gulf support".
  1. Ben Myers, March 21, 2018 at 8:10 p.m.

    Hey, any of them can be bought, just like previous opaque World Cup award processes.

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