May 20, 2024

Saudi Arabia was the only football association to present a bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup before the deadline closed, soccer’s global governing body FIFA confirmed on Tuesday.

FIFA had invited bids from Asia and Oceania for the tournament by Tuesday, and Saudi Arabia announced it would bid only minutes after the announcement on Oct 4.

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Australia said on Tuesday it would not be presenting a bid to host the tournament, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only candidate.

“As established in the Bidding Regulations approved by the FIFA Council, the FIFA administration will conduct thorough bidding and evaluation processes for the 2030 and 2034 editions of the FIFA World Cup, with the hosts to be appointed by FIFA Congresses expected to take place by Q4 2024,” FIFA said.

FIFA also confirmed that the sole confirmation of interest in hosting the 2030 World Cup came from Morocco, Portugal and Spain with Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay hosting celebratory games.

Saudi Arabia’s sports spending program approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been described as sportswashing to soften a national image often associated with its record on women’s rights and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has built close ties to Saudi soccer and the crown prince personally, and has long been seen as trying to steer the world soccer body’s competitions toward the kingdom.

When FIFA made deal this month to have just one host bid for the 2030 World Cup — uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco with three games placed in South America — it also fast-tracked the 2034 hosting race with only member federations in Asia and Oceania eligible to bid. The tight deadline gave them less than four weeks to enter the race by Tuesday and just one month more to sign a bidding agreement that requires government support.

The timetable “was a little bit of a surprise,” Australian soccer federation leader James Johnson acknowledged Tuesday, adding “we’re adults and we just try to roll with it and deal with the cards that we have been given.”

Within hours of the FIFA announcement on Oct. 4, the Saudi soccer federation said it was in and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) — which includes Australia — said it was backing the kingdom to bring the World Cup back to the Middle East after neighboring Qatar hosted the 2022 edition.

Qatar hosted in November and December, in the heart of the European club soccer season, to avoid extreme heat in the summer months and a Saudi tournament likely also will be moved from the traditional June-July period.

Indonesia’s football association initially showed interest in a joint bid with Australia, potentially alongside Malaysia and Singapore, but that faded when Indonesia instead backed Saudi Arabia.

Australia will instead attempt to secure hosting the 2029 Club World Cup — which will relaunch in 2025 playing every four years in a new format with 32 teams qualifying — and the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia also is bidding for the women’s Asian championship.

“I think there will be some goodwill created by not going for 2034,” Johnson told reporters in an online call, accepting that the resources of a government-backed Saudi bid “is difficult to compete with.”

Australia and New Zealand successfully co-hosted the Women’s World Cup in July and August. Brisbane, Queensland state, is due to become the third Australian city to host the Olympics when it stages the 2032 Summer Games.

Saudi Arabia also will host the men’s Asian Cup in 2027 and has started a widespread construction program to build and renovate stadiums that likely will be used for the World Cup. FIFA’s bidding documents say 14 stadiums are needed at the 48-team tournament.

Qatar’s World Cup was dogged by years-long allegations of rights abuses of migrant workers needed to build its stadiums.

“FIFA’s failure in 2010 to insist on human rights protections when it awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is a major reason why serious reforms were so delayed, and so often weakly implemented and enforced,” Football Supporters Europe executive director Ronan Evain said Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s preparation should face some of the same scrutiny in the next decade.

“With Saudi Arabia’s estimated 13.4 million migrant workers, inadequate labor and heat protections and no unions, no independent human rights monitors, and no press freedom, there is every reason to fear for the lives of those who would build and service stadiums, transit, hotels, and other hosting infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden said in a recent statement.

“The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham,” Worden said.

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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