In this exclusive interview with The Standard, Mr Ahmed Belhadj, who was recently appointed as chargé d’affaires of Morocco to The Gambia talks on the preparations of the Fifa Club World Cup to be held inMorocco from 1st to 11th February, the development model of Moroccan football as well as Morocco’s candidacy to host CAN 2025.
The Standard: First of all, we want to welcome you to The Gambia as you have only been recently appointed by Morocco to serve as the first resident chargé d’affaires of the kingdom to The Gambia. Does this appointment reflect Morocco’s desire to further strengthen its relations with The Gambia?
Chargé d’Affaires Belhadj: As you know, relations between Morocco and The Gambia are longstanding, but always renewed, especially since the visit of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI to Banjul in 2006. Since that visit, relations have been dynamic and further strengthened following the election of His Excellency Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia, which gave a strong impetus to this relationship. The opening last October of the Moroccan Embassy in Banjul confirms the excellent relations between the two brotherly countries as well as Morocco’s commitment to raising these relations to the level it deserve.
Next week, Morocco will host a big sport event, the Fifa Club World Cup. How is the country preparingfor it?
Definitely, the FIFA Club World Cup 2023 seems to have already been launched in the Kingdom of Morocco. The competition is set to be played with seven club teams battling for the title of world champion. The competition is scheduled to take place from 1st to 11th February at the Grand Stade de Tangier and the Prince Moulay Abdellah Sports Complex in Rabat.
Does Morocco have the capacity and the infrastructure to host such a large-scale event?
Sport in Morocco has established itself, thanks to the many projects launched on the initiative of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, as one of the strategic sectors contributing to the development dynamics of the kingdom. In terms of infrastructure, Morocco has today more than 200 synthetic turf fields in compliance with the standards; about 20 stadiums with natural turf fields and lighting in compliance with the standards; five regional training centres as well as the famous Mohammed VI Football Complex. These are unique infrastructure in Africa. These facilities cover almost 30 hectares and offer state-of-the-art equipment in accordance with Fifa standards, making this jewel of Moroccan football one of the most important and efficient sports complexes in the world. Morocco alsohas the best tourist offer on the African continent, with first-rate infrastructures, including accommodation and transport, and football pitches that meet international standards.
Morocco is a candidate for CAN 2025, what are its chances of hosting this competition?
As you know, Morocco has not hosted an African Cup of Nations since 1988, although the fervour and passion of the Moroccan public has been noted by all during the various soccer competitions in recent years, including the Qatar 2022 World Cup, in which Morocco was the first African country in history to reach the semi-finals. I think, the CAN 2025 in Morocco will be a successful event because the competition will take place in optimal logistical conditions. So many elements that explain the success of the Moroccan selection on the African and international scene, which in the opinion of many observers of African soccer, largely deserve its triumph.
So this means Morocco is well prepared to host this important sporting event?
Morocco benefits from one of the best soccer infrastructures in Africa, as all the selected stadiums have been approved by Fifa (as part of the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup), as well as by CAF, as part of the World Cup and CAN qualifications. The kingdom also has the Mohammed VI Football Complex, one of the best national soccer centres in the world. The choice of the host cities meets the requirement of operational excellence, and those in terms of sport, residential and transport infrastructure, meeting the requirements of the CAF. Our candidacy offers many other advantages. We have a solid experience in terms of organising sport events, especially soccer. Morocco has organised the 2022 Women’s CAN, the 2022 Women’s Champions League, the 2018 CHAN, as well as several conferences, such as the Fifa-Caf Seminar on Infrastructure, at the Mohammed VI Complex in 2020. Morocco has hosted up to 16 national teams at the same time who do not have approved stadiums during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which could be likened to a “mini CAN”. Having a strong experience in tourism (more than 12 million tourists visited in 2019), the kingdom is equipped with a high quality hotel infrastructure and in sufficient quantity (90,000 rooms distributed among the host cities) to accommodate national teams, official delegations and fans in favourable conditions. Morocco’s accommodation offer will make it possible to accommodate all the players in the competition by offering rates adapted to all budgets. I can also mention that the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca is a real African hub, and Royal Air Maroc is present in many countries, in West Africa as well as in Central and East Africa, serving more than 82 destinations in Africa. This means that the organisation of this event in Morocco will also give the chance to the African diaspora in Europe to join the party in the kingdom with very affordable rates. Each host city has an international airport. It will also be possible to travel between the cities by train, as they are all connected by rail. Finally, the Moroccan bid meets the requirement of quality in terms of mobility and transportation. Indeed, Morocco benefits from dense air, rail and road networks.
What could Morocco offer The Gambia to improve its sport?
The Gambia could draw more inspiration from Morocco’s successful experience in the sport field and strengthen the exchange of good practices within the framework of South-South cooperation. The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (Fédération royale marocaine de football), FRMF, is very committed to the development of African soccer and cooperation. Since 2015, the FRMF has carried out an ambitious policy of international cooperation, within the framework of the Enlightened Vision of His Majesty the King, which promotes a greater involvement in the development of South-South and win-win, especially with Africa. These partnership agreements are articulated around several axes: the support in terms of realisation of sports infrastructure, the exchange of best practices, the training of technical and administrative staff, the hosting of training courses for the preparation of national teams, but also the refereeing or the organisation of friendly matches between the different categories of national teams. Morocco also provides African federations and their players with its expertise in the medical field, offering the possibility to be treated at the Mohammed VI Football Complex clinic. The FRMF is also active in the training of administrative and technical staff and regularly organises training courses for the Caf Pro licence, open to African technicians. There are also training courses for learning the VAR. The organisation of training courses and friendly matches were also among the priorities of the FRMF in terms of international cooperation. At the last Fifa date, more than 12 African teams came to Morocco to play friendly tournaments. Due to the lack of homologation of some stadiums by Caf, more than ten African federations played their official matches in Morocco. This approach does not only concern the A teams but also all the youth categories that are concerned (U-20 and U-17), both men’s and women’s teams. This allows the African partners of Morocco to prepare in the best conditions and to be able to play or train within the Mohammed VI Football Complex. Indeed, the FRMF has developed and technically accompanied projects for the construction of soccer fields and turf.
Thank you Your Excellency.