In the past few hours, Football Australia has pulled out of the running, leaving Saudi Arabia the only nation bidding to host the global tournament in a decade’s time.
World football body Fifa had said the 2034 World Cup would be held in Asia or Oceania, and an Australian bid was regarded as the only potential challenger to Saudi Arabia.
The move means that the World Cup will be hosted in a middle eastern nation twice in the space of 12 years, following last year’s Qatar World Cup.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s Sports Minister, said the World Cup bid “constitutes an important and natural step in our journey as a country passionate about football”.
Amidst accusations of ‘sportswashing,’ Saudi Arabia has gone big on soccer in past months, signing global superstars including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mané and Riyad Mahrez to its league.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund owns the likes of Newcastle FC and the LIV Golf tournament, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently said “if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing.”
Last year’s Qatar World Cup, which was won by Lionel Messi’s Argentina, drew criticism due to the nation’s human rights record, stance on same-sex relationships and treatment of migrant workers. Thousands of migrant workers were reported to have died building several huge stadiums to be used for the tournament. Messi won last night’s Ballon d’Or, presented annually to the best player in world football.
The Saudi tournament will likely attract similar ire to Qatar. The nation is attempting to modernize under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman but its standing on the world stage was heavily damaged in 2018 following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a government critic based in the U.S.
Saudi Arabia has also pushed heavily into the TV and film space in the past few years.