Saudi Arabia is set to be the sole contender in hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup. The decision was made after FIFA announced that the kingdom had submitted the only “expression of interest” for hosting the tournament. The official ratification of this decision is expected at the end of the following year, provided that all technical criteria are met.
This comes after the 2030 World Cup was designated to be shared among Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, with three matches scheduled to take place in South America. The absence of any competition in the bidding process raises concerns about the environmental impact of the 2030 event and the compatibility of the 2034 tournament with FIFA’s human rights commitments.
Initially, Saudi Arabia was interested in bidding for the 2030 World Cup alongside Egypt and Greece. However, this idea was abandoned in June, making way for the tri-continental bid. Saudi Arabia promptly announced its intention to bid for the 2034 event as soon as the procedure was initiated.
Due to FIFA’s continental rotation policy, only member countries of the Asian and Oceanian confederations were invited to apply, excluding traditional football powerhouses. Indonesia had considered a joint bid with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore, but eventually decided to support Saudi Arabia’s bid, leading to the withdrawal of Australia’s interest.
Acquiring the rights to host the World Cup is part of Saudi Arabia’s broader strategy to establish itself as a prominent player in the world of sports. Hosting the Club World Cup at the end of the year and the 2027 Asian Cup are among its upcoming events. The country is also involved in golf, boxing, horse racing, and has attracted top football talent to its clubs.
Critics argue that hosting the World Cup may serve as a distraction from Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations. The kingdom is preparing to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in a futuristic complex being constructed in Neom, a move that has faced widespread criticism.
Hosting the World Cup in 2034 will bring new challenges. The tournament will expand to accommodate 48 teams, compared to the previous 32, and will involve 104 matches. This will require a minimum of 14 stadiums with seating capacities between 40,000 and 80,000, as well as at least 72 base camps.
While Saudi Arabia may have the financial capacity to meet these requirements, questions have arisen about its ability to fulfill FIFA’s commitment to “respect internationally recognized human rights” in its competitions. Environmental sustainability is a criterion in the awarding process, but with no other bids on the table, its significance is in question.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on FIFA to address human rights concerns and conduct an ethical, transparent, objective, and impartial process. The absence of competition in the bidding process has raised concerns about FIFA’s handling of the situation and its ability to uphold its human rights policies.