Saudi Arabia has now officially entered the race to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup after the football body opened the process last week.
In an unprecedented move, FIFA has not only started to accept hosting bids for an event that is taking place 11 years from now, but has also given countries only four weeks to apply.
Moreover, after the governing body of global football recently announced plans to place the 100th-year anniversary edition of the World Cup across Europe, Africa, and South America (with the 26’ WC scheduled to play out in the US, Mexico and Canada), the continental rotation rule has restricted the 2034 bidding process to only countries from Oceania and Asia.
“In line with the principle of confederation rotation and of securing the best possible hosting conditions for the tournaments, the bidding process for the 2034 edition will be conducted concurrently with the 2030 edition,” FIFA stated.
“With the FIFA World Cup 2026 in Canada, Mexico and the United States, the Centenary Celebration in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay (subject to approval by the FIFA Congress), the FIFA World Cup 2030 in Morocco, Portugal, and Spain (subject to approval by the FIFA Congress) and the invitation to the AFC and OFC member associations to bid for the FIFA World Cup 2034, every continent of the world will have the opportunity to host the FIFA World Cup over an 8-year cycle.”
With the above approvals more likely to happen than not, Saudi Arabia could have a high chance of being accepted to host as it has been on relatively good terms with FIFA President Gianni Infantino for quite some time now.
Even more, the Kingdom might benefit further from relaxed FIFA requirements on the number of stadiums a country needs to become a bidder – lowering the criteria from 14 suitable stadiums of which seven are existing, to only four existing stadiums.
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), Yasser Al Misehal, commented: “This is the second step of a hugely exciting journey that the nation is embarking on. Last week we announced our ambitions to host the 2034 Fifa World Cup, and this official submission continues our journey to make the dreams of our people a reality.
“The 2034 FIFA World Cup is our invitation to the world to witness Saudi Arabia’s development, experience its culture and become part of its history.
“We are extremely committed to presenting the most competitive bid possible that will also help unite the world through football.”
Despite the FIFA men’s World Cup being expanded from 32 teams to 48, the deadline set for countries to express interest in hosting the 34’ edition has raised a few eyebrows – all bids need to be submitted by 31 October 2023.
And while the short notice seemingly does not correspond to the careful governmental planning required for a state to become a bidder, Saudi Arabia’s application has been in the making for a long time, with the SAFF claiming that it has already gained the support of 70 voting nations.
If true, this has most certainly been the result of the rapidly growing Saudi influence in global football evident from the domestic Saudi league arrival of world-class footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Benzema, as well as the signing of multiple Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with influential football tournaments such as the one with LaLiga from August.
The strongest sentiment so far in support of Saudi Arabia hosting the 34’ FIFA World Cup has come from Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the President of the Asian Football Confederation, who said: “The entire Asian football family will stand united in support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s momentous initiative.”
Criticism of the country’s bid to host however is undoubtedly piling, particularly because of beliefs that Saudi Arabia is using the facade of sports to hide its questionable human rights record – a practice known as ‘sportswashing’ which the Saudi Crown Prince recently addressed directly.
One of the top concerns for human rights activists is the safety of LGBT people who currently possess limited freedoms in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with Sky News, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal tried to calm down tensions around this issue by saying: “They are welcome. I’m sure they’ve come to some of our events. We don’t go around asking, ‘Are you gay or straight?’ Everyone’s welcome. There are rules that everyone respects.
“There are rules that everyone respects about our culture and how they have to abide by the culture that we have.
“So even men and women – they can’t show affection in public places, and so on. And that’s a regulation that we have that we need to respect. And we have to respect the culture.”
After all, respect sits at the core of FIFA’s and all of its subsidiaries’ commitment to human rights.