Saudi Arabia has emerged as the likely host for the 2034 FIFA World Cup after being the only nation to submit an “expression of interest” to host the tournament, as announced by FIFA. The decision will be officially ratified at the end of the following year, pending the fulfillment of technical criteria. This development comes after the successful hosting of the 2022 World Cup by neighboring Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, which has been making significant investments in various sports, including football, Formula One, and golf, is set to replace the unprecedented tri-continental arrangement for the 2030 World Cup, which will be shared by Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, with a few matches in South America. The bidding process for 2034 remains in its early stages, with only “expressions of interest” submitted at this point.
After the full bids for the 2030 and 2034 World Cups are submitted, FIFA will evaluate them and hold separate congress meetings at the end of 2024 to vote on the hosts. With no competition in the bidding for 2034, the outcome seems predetermined, raising concerns about the environmental impact and alignment with FIFA’s human rights commitments.
Initially, Saudi Arabia had expressed interest in bidding for the 2030 World Cup alongside Egypt and Greece, but this idea was abandoned, allowing for the tri-continental bid. Saudi Arabia officially announced its intention to bid for the 2034 event as soon as the procedure was launched.
The continental rotation policy restricted the bid to member countries of the Asian and Oceanian confederations, leaving out traditional footballing nations. Indonesia had considered a joint bid with Australia and other countries but eventually opted to support Saudi Arabia’s bid. Australia, a contender, withdrew its interest following the Asian Football Confederation’s endorsement of the Saudi bid.
Securing the hosting rights for the World Cup aligns with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to establish a prominent presence in the sports world, but it has also faced criticism for human rights violations. In addition to the World Cup, the country is preparing to host the Club World Cup in December and the 2027 Asian Cup, while also venturing into other sports and entertainment events. The Saudi bid faces the challenge of hosting an expanded World Cup, with 48 teams, a significant increase from the traditional 32-team format, which requires extensive infrastructure and resources.
Questions have been raised about Saudi Arabia’s ability to meet FIFA’s commitment to “respect internationally recognized human rights” in its competitions, and Human Rights Watch has called for a postponement of the awarding of the 2034 World Cup, citing concerns about the transparency and objectivity of the process.
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