FIFA’s decision to award the men’s 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia, the sole bidder for the tournament, has significant implications for the world of international football and raises several key points worth exploring.
Sole Bidder and FIFA’s Selection: The fact that Saudi Arabia was the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup immediately stands out. In such cases, FIFA often faces scrutiny for a lack of competition, which can impact the transparency and credibility of the selection process. FIFA has historically preferred competitive bids to ensure the highest standards for the tournament.
2026 World Cup and Continental Rotation: The 2026 World Cup is scheduled to take place in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This marked a break from the traditional continental rotation system, as it falls under the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The 2034 edition was expected to be held in Asia or Oceania, per FIFA’s rotation policy.
Geopolitical and Human Rights Concerns: Saudi Arabia’s selection as the host has raised concerns due to its human rights record and other geopolitical issues. The country has faced criticism for human rights violations, women’s rights abuses, the criminalization of homosexuality, and its involvement in the conflict in Yemen. Additionally, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 had a severe impact on the country’s international standing. These concerns pose challenges for FIFA, as the organization is increasingly expected to consider human rights and ethical issues when awarding hosting rights.
Sportswashing: The term “sportswashing” refers to the practice of governments using sports events to distract from reputational issues and controversies. Saudi Arabia has faced allegations of sportswashing, where hosting international sporting events is seen as an attempt to improve the country’s image on the global stage.
Bidding and Evaluation Process: FIFA has emphasized the need for a thorough bidding and evaluation process to ensure that the hosting requirements are met. This process will involve a targeted dialogue with bidders, covering various areas such as infrastructure, services, commercial aspects, and sustainability. The aim is to ascertain that the host nation can meet FIFA’s criteria for a successful World Cup.
Modernization and Infrastructure: The 2034 World Cup is likely to be held in the winter due to extreme summer heat. However, a positive aspect of Saudi Arabia’s bid is its focus on modernizing existing infrastructure rather than building new stadiums. This approach is seen as more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.
Saudi Arabia’s Growing Role in Global Sports: Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has increasingly engaged in hosting major international sporting events, including football, Formula 1, golf, and boxing. This expansion reflects the country’s ambition to become a prominent player in the world of sports.
Economic Impact and Disruption: Saudi Arabia’s investments in football have not gone unnoticed. It is disrupting European football by offering higher salaries to attract top talent. This financial power can position Saudi Arabia as a strong contender for hosting major sporting events.
International Criticism and Responses: Athletes, human rights organizations, and other stakeholders have criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sports, calling for improvements in its human rights record and ethical commitments. FIFA must consider these concerns and secure clear and binding commitments from the host nation.
Continued Globalization of Football: FIFA’s decision to award the 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia underscores the continued globalization of football. It exemplifies how the sport transcends borders and politics, uniting nations and fans worldwide, as highlighted by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
In conclusion, the selection of Saudi Arabia as the host for the 2034 World Cup raises complex issues surrounding the bidding process, geopolitical considerations, human rights, and the role of sports in global diplomacy. FIFA faces the challenge of balancing the desire for inclusive and competitive bids with ethical and human rights standards as it works to ensure a successful and controversy-free tournament.