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Saudi Arabia to host 2034 World Cup

Saudi Arabia produced one of the great World Cup shocks when they defeated Argentina at Qatar 2022. Lionel Messi's team recovered to eventually win the tournament Reuters/Dylan Martinez
Saudi Arabia produced one of the great World Cup shocks when they defeated Argentina at Qatar 2022. Lionel Messi's team recovered to eventually win the tournament
  • Australia opts out of bid
  • Final submission date October 31
  • Saudi learns lessons from Qatar 2022

Saudi Arabia is to be formally declared as the host of the 2034 Fifa World Cup after Australia said on Tuesday – the final day for bids – that it would not submit an application. 

Football Australia said in a statement that it had decided to focus instead on bids for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup and the 2029 Club World Cup, after previously announcing it was exploring a 2034 bid. 

On October 4, Fifa, football’s governing body, invited bids by a deadline of October 31 specifically from countries in Asia and Oceania. 

Saudi Arabia immediately registered its name but plans for a rival joint bid from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore fell apart when Indonesia announced it backed the kingdom, where football has become a national obsession. 

Saudi Arabia had earlier explored the possibility of a joint bid with Egypt and Greece for the 2030 World Cup, but shifted its focus to a lone bid for 2034 after securing the support of European countries and dozens of other countries. 

Fifa relaxed its rules for 2034 on the number of suitable stadiums that must already be in existence, reducing them from seven to four. 

The business of sport: where the money in the Middle East goes

Qatar, the first Arab country to host the tournament in 2022, used purpose-built air-conditioned stadiums but still had to request to stage it in the winter. 

Saudi Arabia has praised Qatar’s hosting and said it intends to replicate Qatar’s alcohol-free games. Officials have said the current prohibition on the public sale of alcohol will stay in place as it brings in millions of tourists, foreign businesses and residents to new cities. 

The Saudi bid aims to showcase the country’s diverse tourism locations by staging the games in high-altitude venues, almost certainly including some in the city of Neom, which is being developed in the mountainous northwest. 

“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,” the Saudi Arabian Football Federation said after submitting the bid. 

The Saudi national team has participated in six tournaments, including the Qatar World Cup where it scored a shock victory over eventual winners Argentina

The decision comes as vindication of Saudi Arabia’s massive spending on the sport as part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy and transform the country’s image. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has brushed aside accusations in Western media of “sportswashing”, saying sport as an industry was a growing element of Saudi GDP. 

In June the Saudi Public Investment Fund took 75 percent stakes in each of four teams – Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, Al Nassr and Al Ahli – amid a series of major football star transfers.  

Al Nassr signed Cristiano Ronaldo in December for a reported $200 million annually, making him the world’s highest-paid athlete.

Other signings include Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, N’Golo Kanté from Chelsea, Roberto Firmino from Liverpool, former Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, and Neymar from Paris St Germain

“The tournament will mark the relaunch of Brand Saudi Arabia,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sport and geopolitical economy at the Skema Business School in Paris. 

“Between now and the tournament being staged, it will serve to internally validate Mohammed bin Salman, his way of doing business, and the promises he has been making to Saudi Arabia’s young population.” 

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