Saudi Arabia has submitted to FIFA its official intention to host the 2034 World Cup after an unprecedented fast-track process was adopted by football’s governing body.
FIFA unexpectedly announced last Wednesday it was giving countries only four weeks to confirm their official interest in bidding for the men’s showpiece event despite it being 11 years away.
The process was also restricted to countries from Oceania and Asia in a boost to the hopes of Saudi Arabia which has enjoyed close relations in recent years with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Typically, countries are given a long period to consider bids which require vast planning, especially since the men’s tournament was expanded to 48 teams from 32.
The bidding agreements have to be completed by 30 November.
Within hours of the FIFA Council meeting last Wednesday, the Saudis announced their interest to bid, and confirmation came on Monday.
Saudi Arabian Football Federation President Yasser Al Misehal said in a statement: “The 2034 FIFA World Cup is our invitation to the world to witness Saudi Arabia’s development, experience its culture and become part of its history.
“We are extremely committed to presenting the most competitive bid possible that will also help unite the world through football.”
Australia is also interested in bidding for the 2034 World Cup.
But Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa announced last week: “The entire Asian football family will stand united in support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s momentous initiative.”
Hosting a World Cup would be the next step in Saudi’s vast investment in sport – particularly attracting stars including Cristiano Ronaldo to play in the kingdom and buying Newcastle United.
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Africa, Europe and South America were knocked out of the running for 2034 by a behind-the-scenes deal by FIFA to link to bids for 2030 that is now set to be hosted by six countries in three continents: Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
A FIFA Congress of the 211 football nations is set to confirm the hosts later in 2024.
FIFA is yet to chose a Women’s World Cup host for 2027 with a decision not due until next year.
A World Cup bid could see Saudi Arabia breaching FIFA requirements to not discriminate against gay people – changes introduced in the fallout from the 2022 World Cup going to Qatar despite its anti-LGBT laws.
“They are welcome,” Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal told Sky News last year. “I’m sure they’ve come to some of our events. We don’t go around asking, ‘Are you gay or straight?’ Everyone’s welcome. There are rules that everyone respects.” What are the rules?
He responded: “There are rules that everyone respects about our culture and how they have to abide by the culture that we have.
“So even men and women – they can’t show affection in public places, and so on. And that’s a regulation that we have that we need to respect. And we have to respect the culture.”