Saudi Arabia is all but certain to host the men’s 2034 FIFA World Cup after the Australian football federation declined to enter the bidding contest.
FIFA had set Tuesday as the deadline to submit a bid to host the tournament, but Australia’s decision to pull out leaves Saudi Arabia as the only declared candidate.
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“We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the FIFA World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” Football Australia (FA) said in a statement.
FIFA still needs to rubber stamp Saudi Arabia as the hosts – a decision that is likely to be made next year – but victory now seems a formality.
🏆 Australia will not bid for the 2034 World Cup, clearing the way for Saudi Arabia to host the tournament.
— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) October 31, 2023
‘Natural next step in football journey’
It would be the culmination of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious drive to become a major player in global sports, having already spent massive amounts on bringing in dozens of star footballers to their domestic league, buying English club Newcastle, launching the breakaway LIV Golf tour and hosting major boxing fights.
When awarding the 2030 World Cup to a joint bid by Spain, Portugal and Morocco – which will also feature games in South America – FIFA decided to fast-track the 2034 hosting race earlier this month with only member federations in Asia and Oceania eligible to bid.
The tight deadline gave them less than four weeks to enter the race and just one month more to sign a bidding agreement that requires government support.
Within hours of the FIFA announcement, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced plans to bid and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said it was backing the kingdom to bring the World Cup back to the Middle East after neighbouring Qatar hosted the 2022 edition.
Saudi Arabia will also host the men’s Asian Cup in 2027 and has started a widespread construction programme to build and renovate stadiums that will also likely be used for the World Cup.
FIFA’s bidding documents say 14 stadiums are needed for the 48-team tournament.
“Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation,” Saudi Arabia’s Sports Minister Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said in a statement.
“As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.”
Today, we enter the next chapter of Saudi football: intending to bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup™ 🏆
— الاتحاد السعودي لكرة القدم (@saudiFF) October 4, 2023
Rights group slams FIFA
Last week Human Rights Watch complained that FIFA was failing to apply its own rules in regards to Saudi Arabia’s bid, specifically article seven of its human rights policy.
The article states: “FIFA will constructively engage with relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities.”
“The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham,” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confronted accusations of sportswashing in an interview with Fox News last month, saying: “If sportswashing was going to increase my GDP by way of 1 percent, then I will continue doing sportwashing.”
“I don’t care. One percent growth of GDP from sport and I’m aiming for another one-and-a-half percent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one-and-a-half percent.”