In a surprising turn of events, Australia has opted not to bid for the hosting rights of the men’s 2034 World Cup, leaving Saudi Arabia as the sole contender. This decision, announced just hours before Fifa’s declaration of interest deadline, has generated substantial buzz within the world of football. In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons behind Australia’s withdrawal from the bidding process and the controversy surrounding Saudi Arabia’s candidacy.
Football Australia, the governing body of football in the country, released a statement expressing their decision not to bid for the 2034 World Cup. Instead, they plan to focus their efforts on hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Club World Cup in 2029. This choice signals a strategic shift in their priorities, with an emphasis on women’s football and club competitions.
The 2026 World Cup has already been designated to the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The 2030 tournament, on the other hand, will be hosted by Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, with matches scheduled to take place in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Therefore, the 2034 World Cup was set to be held in either Asia or Oceania, making Australia the most likely challenger to Saudi Arabia, who expressed their intention to bid shortly after Fifa’s announcement.
Controversies Surrounding Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s bid, while seemingly a strong contender on paper, is not without its share of controversies and concerns. Several factors contribute to the contentious nature of their candidacy.
Human Rights Violations
Saudi Arabia has faced widespread criticism for its human rights record. In a chilling incident, 81 men were executed on a single day last year. The country’s record on women’s rights has been deplorable, and the criminalization of homosexuality, restriction of free speech, and its involvement in the Yemeni conflict have further tarnished its international image.
Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing
The international standing of Saudi Arabia took a severe blow in 2018 with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist known for his outspoken criticism of the Saudi government. This incident led to global outrage and condemnation, casting a long shadow over the nation’s reputation.
Human rights advocates argue that Saudi Arabia is using sport as a means to distract from its longstanding reputation issues, a tactic known as ‘sportswashing.’ This strategy allows the Saudi government to divert attention from its human rights violations and other controversies.
Past FIFA Decision
Fifa’s previous decision to have Saudi Arabia sponsor the 2023 Women’s World Cup was met with a strong backlash from co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, as well as players and sponsors. However, Saudi Arabia is determined to host the 2035 tournament after forming a women’s team last year, indicating their intent to be a part of the global football landscape.
Similar to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the 2034 edition is likely to be held in the winter due to extreme summer heat. However, Saudi Arabia has the advantage of modern infrastructure, potentially reducing the need for extensive stadium construction and making the event more environmentally friendly.
Sporting Milestones in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in hosting major sporting events since 2018. These events span various disciplines, including football, Formula 1, golf, and boxing, with the upcoming Club World Cup in December. The possibility of hosting the men’s 2034 World Cup marks another substantial milestone in their sporting journey.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, emphasizes the bid as an essential step for a country passionate about football. Notably, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has taken control of four top clubs in the Saudi Pro League, attracting high-profile players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar.
Moreover, the launch of the lucrative LIV Golf series in 2022 led to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour merging with PIF, further solidifying Saudi Arabia’s position in the sports world.
Formula 1 held its inaugural race in Saudi Arabia in 2021, and boxing world title fights have also found a home in the kingdom. Tennis will host a professional event in Saudi Arabia for the first time in November, marking another step toward diversifying their sports portfolio. Talks with the women’s tour about hosting the end-of-season WTA Finals indicate the nation’s continued commitment to sportswashing as a strategy to enhance its international image.
The Future of Saudi Arabia’s Sports Diplomacy
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s bid for the 2034 men’s World Cup is not without its challenges and controversies. The nation’s history of human rights violations and past FIFA decisions have raised questions about its suitability as a host. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s efforts to expand its presence in the world of sports are undeniable, and their bid represents a significant step in their journey as a sports-passionate nation. The outcome of this bid will not only impact the future of the World Cup but also provide insights into the power and influence of sports diplomacy on the world stage.