Colombo, Oct 31 (Forbes) – Saudi Arabia is all but guaranteed to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup after Australia’s soccer federation announced it won’t submit a competitive bid for the tournament, as the Middle Eastern country establishes itself as an emerging sports hub.
Australia on Tuesday said it would not bid to host the 2034 World Cup, hours before FIFA’s deadline for countries to express interest in bringing the world’s most-watched sports tournament to their shores.
A potential rival bid from Australia was the only hurdle standing in the way of Saudi Arabia’s plan to host the tournament, the New York Times reported, after FIFA announced it would only consider bidders from Asia and Oceania.
The president of the Asian Football Confederation said when bidding began “the entire Asian football family” would stand in support of Saudi Arabia, which would have made it difficult for Australia to win enough of the 211 FIFA federation votes to claim the bid, according to the Times.
Saudi Arabia will be only the second Arab country to ever host the World Cup following Qatar’s organizing of the tournament in 2022.
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Australia has expressed interest in hosting the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which Saudi Arabia has also bid for, and the 2029 FIFA Club World Cup. The 2032 Summer Olympics is set to take place in Brisbane, Australia.
Saudi Arabia has taken several giant steps into the world of sports in recent years, leading critics to argue it is trying to “sports wash” its reputation and history of human rights abuses. The Guardian earlier this year reported the country has spent more than $6 billion on sports deals since early 2021. Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund launched the LIV Golf tour, luring some of the world’s best players to its events with hefty prize purses. Earlier this year, the PGA Tour said it would merge with the European DP World Tour and the LIV Golf League to create a new entity. Saudi Arabia in June announced it would take control of four domestic football clubs—including Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr—and launched a $1 billion plan to lure top soccer talent to the country’s national league. Saudi Arabia has also started a foray into the world of tennis with a successful bid to host the Next Gen Finals for men’s under-21 tennis players until 2027. The county’s attempts to establish itself as an international sports hub has been met with criticism by groups like Human Rights Watch, which has said Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from hosting such events until it improves its record on women’s rights and treatment of the LGBTQ community. Critics have also pointed to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. officials say was likely ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
$200 billion. That’s how much Qatar spent to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a choice that was controversial for many of the same reasons a Saudi Arabian tournament would be. Qatar’s questionable human rights record, treatment of LGTBQ people and treatment of migrants were thrust into the spotlight with the hosting of the event and some activists called for boycotts of the tournament. Human Rights Watch said thousands of migrant workers died in the lead-up to the World Cup, including those who worked on building or upgrading stadiums, hotels, the airport and other infrastructure related to the tournament.
The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 153 countries, highlighting that the country does not recognize LGBTQ rights and homosexuality is still punishable by imprisonment, death and beating. Saudi still lags far behind other developed nations in terms of equitable gender treatment, despite the 2017 lifting of a decades-old ban on female drivers and a 2019 ban on child marriages. Single women have been allowed to live independently since 2021.