The row over the status of four United States-governed island territories in the increasingly bitter race for the 2026 World Cup could continue until the vote itself in Moscow on June 13.
And FIFA’s decision on the matter, which relates to delegates with conflicts of interest, could have major implications for any future bid for a tournament by England or any of the other home nations.
The two competitors for 2026 are a joint bid featuring Canada, Mexico and the US, and a rival bid from Morocco.
Following the controversy surrounding the 2010 vote for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, FIFA has taken the decision away from its executive committee, now known as the FIFA Council, and put the 2026 decision out to a vote of all of its 211 member associations, apart from the four bidding nations.
Three weeks ago, Morocco wrote to FIFA to ask if American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands should also be excluded from the vote.
On Thursday, FIFA told Press Association Sport that the new regulations for the host selection process put the onus on member associations themselves to declare a conflict of interest and they should “notify the FIFA general secretariat immediately” of their intention to do so.
A spokesperson added that “at time of writing, no member association has notified FIFA about its intention not to perform their duties in connection with the bidding procedure”.
But contrary to some media reports, this does not mean FIFA has refused to block the four US overseas territories.
In fact, Press Association Sport understands that FIFA is well aware of the potential legal challenge from Morocco and has now written to both bids to say “any future questions arising in this matter will be dealt with at the 68th congress”. In other words, this may not be settled until the day of the vote.
The relevant article in the bidding regulations is 4.2 and it makes it clear that the ‘conflict of interest’ clause relates to individual delegates as much as their member associations.
The fact that inhabitants of these islands are considered US nationals, and many are full-blown US citizens, explains why Morocco is so concerned.
As this is the first host decision to be decided by a vote at congress, this is uncharted territory for FIFA but there are clear ramifications for future contests.
Any World Cup bid by England, for example, could see delegates from the other home nations plus Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar and so on all being prevented from voting.