In a surprising turn of events, Saudi Arabia is on the brink of becoming the host for the 2034 FIFA World Cup after Australia withdrew its bid just hours before the submission deadline.
Football Australia released a statement explaining their decision: “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.” Instead, they have chosen to focus on bids for the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2029.
With Australia’s withdrawal, Saudi Arabia emerges as the sole confirmed bidder for the 2034 World Cup. Their bid was announced on October 4, following FIFA’s surprise invitation for expressions of interest exclusively from Asia and Oceania.
FIFA, in an official press release, acknowledged that Saudi Arabia is the only bidder for the 2034 tournament. Nonetheless, FIFA will proceed with thorough bidding and evaluation processes for both the 2030 and 2034 World Cups, with host selections slated for confirmation by October.
The 2030 World Cup is set to be hosted by a consortium of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, while Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina will each hold an opening match to commemorate the centenary of the inaugural World Cup.
FIFA’s focus in evaluating bids will be on key areas, including infrastructure, services, commercial aspects, sustainability, and human rights.
Saudi Arabia’s recent hosting of major sports events, such as Formula One and boxing, has made it a noteworthy player in the global sports landscape. Its investments in the LIV Golf Tour and the Saudi Pro League, which attracted prominent soccer stars to join Saudi clubs, have been instrumental in shaking up the world of sports.
Securing the World Cup would represent a significant achievement for Saudi Arabia and align with its broader strategy to become a prominent presence in the world of sports. However, this endeavor has not been without controversy, as it has been criticized for sportswashing, a term used to describe the use of sports to improve a country’s image.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) responded to this criticism, stating that he is undeterred by the sportswashing label, emphasizing the economic benefits of such investments.
In light of these developments, the Sports & Rights Alliance, a coalition of human rights and anti-corruption advocates in sports, has urged FIFA to ensure human rights protections for both the 2030 and 2034 World Cup tournaments. They stress the importance of reaching binding agreements with potential hosts to safeguard workers’ rights, freedom of expression, and prevent discrimination linked to the World Cup during the host selection process, rather than after hosts have been confirmed.