Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Saudi Arabia likely set to host 2034 World Cup after Australia declines opportunity to lodge rival bid

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Football Australia (FA) say they will not bid to host the 2034 World Cup, a move which looks set to clear the path for Saudi Arabia to be handed the tournament. The joint-hosts of this year’s Women’s World Cup had been viewed as the only potential rival to the Saudi pitch but appear to have concluded that they did not have any realistic chance of securing a tournament that has long seemed destined for the Middle East.

An FA statement released a few hours before FIFA’s deadline said: “We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the Fifa World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition.”

FA noted their interest in hosting the 2026 Asia Cup and 2029 Club World Cup in an announcement that reaffirmed its qualities as a host of major sporting events. They said: “For international tournament hosting, the Australian time zones provide significant opportunities for broadcasters, and we are within touching distance of billions of people in Asia and Oceania, which also helps to provide a strong commercial outlook for competitions.”

However, any proposal from Australia would have faced an almighty battle to win the 2034 World Cup, which is only available to nations in Asia and Oceania. Saudi Arabia’s football federation has said it has the backing of over 100 of FIFA’s 211 members, who would vote on the bids should a second nation declare its interest.

Saudi Arabia had declared itself a contender for 2034 mere hours after FIFA announced an expedited process for awarding the tournament. With the 2026 World Cup due to take place in North America and six nations from South America, Africa and Europe hosting games four years later, only a handful of nations were both eligible and realistically able to host a competition that will likely host 48 teams and draw millions of visitors.

A Saudi World Cup is likely to be a hugely contentious event given the country’s record on human rights. The nation has invested significantly in football over the last year, signing high profile players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Sadio Mane to play in its Pro League.

Saudi Arabia have not indicated whether they would propose to host the tournament in the European winter months, as Qatar did in 2022, but given that temperatures in the capital Riyadh hit an average of 97 degrees in July and August it seems inevitable that it would have to be scheduled for later in the year.

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