Sure, 2034 might seem a little far off, but don’t rely too much on the feeling: in what may seem right now as an extremely long time -since it’s not the next World Cup calendar- the 2034 World Cup will suddenly be on the grid, on top of you, and you’ll be feeling those well-known, knock-out anxiety levels! Now, on with the juicy lowdown!
Saudi Arabia, Solo Striker
Well, Saudi Arabia’s looking like the top dog for the 2034 World Cup, being the only one to throw their hat in the ring. Australia decided to sit this one out, pulling their bid just before the buzzer. With Morocco, Portugal, and Spain vying instead for the next World Cup calendar, the 2030 spotlight, and Australia out of the 2034 picture, it seems Saudi’s got a clear field ahead.
From Down Under to “Under Consideration”:
The Aussie football chiefs spilled the beans. James Johnson, the big cheese at Football Australia, mentioned that the country was “exploring the possibility” of 2034, but on Tuesday the domestic governing body said it would instead focus on bids for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup and the 2029 Club World Cup.
Johnson went on to convey reservations regarding Australia’s chances against Saudi’s World Cup bid. He commented that bidding for the World Cup was “not going to be favorable to Australia”.
“Saudi is a strong bid. They have a lot of resources, and not just [for] the 2034 World Cup. They are disrupting European football paying higher dollars. This is a disruption in the market and that is what positions Saudi in a strong way. From the government, top down they are prioritizing investment in football. That is difficult to compete with.” James Johnson
Which, of course, led them to drop out of the dance. Seems Australia is playing the long game… might even be in it for the next World Cup calendar.
Cheers and Jeers:
While Saudi’s making waves in the sporting world, it’s not all smooth sailing for them. Human Rights Watch pulled no punches, calling FIFA’s potential nod towards Saudi Arabia as turning a blind eye to some sticky issues. Amnesty International added their two cents, urging FIFA to make “clear and binding commitments” from Saudi before sealing the deal. Flashback to Qatar’s World Cup Schedule 2022 hosting and the heat FIFA faced, and it looks like déjà vu all over again.
Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Controversy Stirred Up Other Ongoing Protests
When Qatar stepped up as the World Cup 2022 host, eyebrows were raised due to concerns about its views on LGBTQ+ issues, treatment of migrants, and broader human rights issues.
FIFA recently faced a storm of protests from co-hosts, namely Australia and New Zealand -along with players and sponsors- over Saudi Arabia’s potential sponsorship for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Eventually, they backed off from the plan.
Groups like the Sport & Rights Alliance and Amnesty International urge FIFA to ensure stringent human rights commitments from prospective 2030 and 2034 World Cup hosts, highlighting potential risks.
“With only a single bid for each tournament on the table, FIFA may have scored an own goal. FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies. It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed.” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice
Saudi’s Sports Journey
Saudi Arabia, having formed a women’s team recently, is now also eyeing the 2035 tournament. And given the sweltering summer heat of the upcoming dates, the 2034 World Cup, like its predecessor in 2022, is expected in winter. The focus is on upgrading existing venues rather than new constructions, promising a greener event than what was seen in Qatar.
Since 2018, Saudi Arabia has donned the host’s cap for numerous sporting events, from football to Formula 1 and boxing, culminating with the upcoming Club World Cup this December. The World Cup would be another feather in their cap.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, the sports aficionado minister of Saudi, views the World Cup bid as a reflection of their nation’s growing football passion. The PIF’s control over top-tier clubs like Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr, and attracting global football icons like Cristiano Ronaldo, paints a picture of their ambition.
Their sports influence isn’t limited to football. The LIV Golf series in 2022 saw the PGA Tour merging with PIF. In 2021, Formula 1 races debuted in Saudi, although not without criticisms from racers like Lewis Hamilton. Boxing saw Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury battles in Saudi arenas. Tennis too is making its Saudi debut with the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah. Discussions with the women’s tennis tour about the WTA Finals are also in the pipeline.
This means Saudi’s not just sitting pretty waiting for the World Cup. They’ve also dabbled in football, F1, golf, and boxing, to name a few. With top-tier players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema joining their league and major sporting milestones piling up, Saudi’s kicking goals left, right, and center. Eddie Howe, after visiting Riyadh and Jeddah, mentioned, “Everywhere we went was well organized; we were well looked after. If that’s a sign of what a World Cup might look like, structurally it will be really good.”
Still, there are some pebbles in the shoe: just last month, Crown Prince Bin Salman commented: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing.”
In light of this declaration, it’s only logical that the Sport & Rights Alliance and Amnesty International affirms that FIFA really needs to secure and ensure surefire commitments to improve the human rights situation in countries that are likely to host the upcoming 2030 and 2034 men’s World Cup tournaments in order to prevent and avoid serious potential abuses.
Just watch this space – with Saudi’s sporting ambitions flying high, we’re in for some game-changing moments and high-end drama.
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