In a surprising turn of events, Saudi Arabia is set to become the host for the 2034 FIFA World Cup, following Australia’s withdrawal from the race. This decision has raised numerous questions about the process and rationale behind FIFA’s choice to grant hosting rights to the Middle Eastern nation.
The path to Saudi Arabia becoming the potential host for the 2034 World Cup began when FIFA announced the hosts for the 2030 edition. By distributing the tournament across three continents, including South America, Europe, and Africa, FIFA effectively limited potential hosts for the 2034 event to the Asia-Oceania region. This laid the groundwork for the Kingdom’s candidacy.
What added to the intrigue was the haste with which FIFA handled the bidding process. FIFA set an incredibly tight one-month deadline for countries to express their interest in hosting the 2034 World Cup, followed by another one-month deadline for submitting a bidding agreement requiring government support. This tight timeframe left Australia with an improbable task to garner government backing for hosting a 48-team World Cup.
Reports suggested that Australia might collaborate with Indonesia and Singapore for a joint bid, but Indonesia’s subsequent endorsement of the Saudi bid quashed those hopes.
Saudi Arabia didn’t waste any time and announced its bid shortly after FIFA’s initial announcement. They gained significant support, including backing from the Asian Football Confederation and several countries, including India, signaling a considerable backing for the Saudi candidacy.
Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to host the World Cup is part of its broader strategy to establish a strong presence in the world of sports. The Saudi government has made substantial investments in various sports, including golf, football, and esports. These efforts are tied to their larger goal of diversifying their economy away from reliance on oil and gas, aiming for long-term sustainability.
However, the decision to award the World Cup to Saudi Arabia has raised concerns, particularly regarding allegations of “sportswashing.” This term refers to the use of sports to improve a country’s image in the face of negative perceptions. The Saudi government’s human rights record, which includes restrictions on women’s rights, systemic executions for various offenses, and the denial of LGBTQ+ rights, has drawn criticism. The 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, an act attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, further complicates the matter.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on FIFA to delay the 2034 World Cup process, citing FIFA’s own laws that emphasize the need to ensure respect for internationally-recognized human rights in host nations.
The decision to award the hosting rights of the 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia underscores the complex intersection of sports, politics, and human rights, sparking important conversations about the responsibilities of organizations like FIFA in the world of football.