Saudi Arabia has emerged as the frontrunner to host the 2034 Men’s World Cup after Australia opted out of the bidding process. Football Australia confirmed its decision to withdraw its bid hours before Fifa’s deadline for declarations of interest on Tuesday.
Australia’s governing body expressed its intent to redirect its focus toward hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Club World Cup in 2029, aiming to cultivate these events. The 2026 World Cup is already scheduled to take place in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
With Morocco, Portugal, and Spain set to host the 2030 tournament, along with matches in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it seemed that the stage had been set for the next World Cup to be hosted in Asia or Oceania, with Australia as the primary competitor to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s bid, however, carries a multitude of controversies, notably involving human rights issues such as mass executions, women’s rights violations, and more. The 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi further stained their international image.
Critics argue that the Saudi government’s decision to host the World Cup is part of a strategy known as ‘sportswashing,’ which aims to divert attention from longstanding reputation issues.
Human rights organizations pressed Fifa for “clear, binding commitments” before deciding hosts, with a focus on securing these from Saudi Arabia.
It’s worth noting that Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup also faced criticism due to issues related to same-sex relationships, human rights, and the treatment of migrant workers.
To avoid extreme heat, they are likely to hold the 2034 World Cup in the winter, and the use of existing infrastructure could potentially make it more environmentally friendly than previous editions.
With Saudi Arabia investing in sports, including taking over Newcastle United in 2021, they are positioning themselves as a competitive host for the World Cup, disrupting European football, and attracting high-profile players.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, views hosting the World Cup as a natural step in their journey as a football-loving nation. The country has already hosted various major sporting events, including football, Formula 1, golf, and boxing.
Hosting the World Cup represents another milestone in Saudi Arabia’s growing presence in the global sports landscape, characterized by high-profile acquisitions and events, indicating their commitment to developing sports within the country.