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Saudi Arabia reveals 2034 football World Cup bid

Fans at the Al Nassr vs Al Ahli Pro League match in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom was expected to bid for the 2030 Fifa World Cup but has switched its focus to 2034 Reuters/Ahmed Yosri
Fans at the Al Nassr vs Al Ahli Pro League match in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom was expected to bid for the 2030 Fifa World Cup but has switched its focus to 2034
  • Australia, Japan, China may also bid
  • Success would be ‘game-changer’
  • Six nations share 2030 World Cup

Saudi Arabia has officially thrown its hat into the ring to become the host nation of the 2034 Fifa World Cup.

It had been thought the kingdom was going to launch a joint bid with Greece and Egypt to co-host the 2030 tournament, but these rumours proved to be unfounded.

The 2030 event, a celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the World Cup, was on Wednesday awarded to six countries on three continents – Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

A final vote by all 211 Fifa members to officially ratify the plans will not take place until the end of next year.

With Fifa subsequently inviting bids from Asia and Oceania for the 2034 event, the move has paved the way for Saudi Arabia to run as a standalone host.

“There is likely to have been some backroom politicking to address the consequences of selecting Morocco and the others as 2030 hosts, which means that Saudi Arabia will start to look like a shoo-in for 2034,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in France, said.

The kingdom is expected to face competition from Australia – which co-hosted the Women’s World Cup this summer alongside New Zealand – as well as Japan and China.

Saudi Arabia has qualified for the tournament on six occasions since 1994 – most recently in 2022 when the Green Falcons secured a historic 1-0 victory over eventual champions Argentina.

Earlier this year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project involving league champions Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal, with a host of top players moving to the league.

Saudi Pro League clubs spent almost $1 billion in the transfer window for some of the world’s leading players, according to an analysis from Deloitte.

This included the $96 million transfer of Brazilian forward Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain to Al Hilal. Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al Nassr in January.

The country’s sovereign wealth fund also splashed out $409 million to become a majority stakeholder in English Premier League side Newcastle United in 2021.

The bid will be led by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF).

“The kingdom’s transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid,” SAFF president Yasser Al Misehal, said.

Should Saudi’s bid be successful it would be the second World Cup to be hosted in the Middle East after Qatar staged the event last year.

It is thought to have added up to $17 billion to the country’s economy, according to the event’s CEO Nasser Al Khater.

“A successful bid would be a game-changer, not just for Saudi sports but for our broader socio-economic and cultural aspirations,” said Alwaleed Alkeaid, a Riyadh-based sports executive.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described the kingdom’s bid as “a reflection of the country’s progress in all sectors”.

Qatar was the most expensive World Cup ever staged, with costs reaching $200 billion, which included building new stadiums as well as infrastructure such as hotels, airports and a metro system.

However, Saudi has much of this work already in hand through its ambitious Vision 2030 program to diversify the country’s dependence away from hydrocarbons.

“Saudi has invested heavily in infrastructure as part of Vision 2030 to expand hospitality and real estate, so extra spending geared specifically toward the World Cup is unlikely to be as that laid out by Qatar’s government,” said James Swanston, Middle East and North African economist with Capital Economics.

SAFF announced in January plans to build three new stadiums and renovate a further four in preparation for hosting the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

New-builds include the Riyadh Stadium, the Qiddiya Stadium and Dammam Stadium.

Renovations will be made to the Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Stadium in the centre of Riyadh, the Prince Saud Bin Jamal City Stadium in Khobar, and the Prince Muhammad Bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam.

The King Fahd Stadium in the Saudi capital will also see its capacity raised to 92,000.

According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a 160 percent increase in youth football investment, opening 18 youth regional training centres, increasing registered coaches from 750 in 2018 to over 5,500, and seeing an uptick of 56 percent and 86 percent in registered male and female players respectively since 2021.

“Given the growth in popularity of football in the region, the investments in the Saudi PL and backing into this league as a contender for the top 10 global leagues, this timeline (2034) would be a very good marker for what has been achieved in a 10-year period and equally for how much economic benefit can be provided to the Saudi population and wider region,” Neil Joyce, founder and CEO of data consultancy CLV Group, said.

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