It would be a dream for anyone running for office, no opposing candidate, election by acclamation. October 31 was the deadline for national football associations from Asia or Oceania to express their interest to world soccer’s governing body FIFA in hosting the 2034 World Cup. So far, only Saudi Arabia is known to have done so, making the Gulf state a shoo-in for the bid.
FIFA rolls out the red carpet
In early October, FIFA announced that the 2030 World Cup would be played on three continents: Europe (Spain and Portugal), Africa (Morocco) and South America (Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay). Due to its principle of rotating hosts among the continents, Europe, Africa and South America were thus ruled out for 2034.
The same applied to North and Central America, with the USA, Mexico and Canada set to host the 2026 World Cup. Therefore, FIFA said, it would only accept bids from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – which includes Australia – and the Oceania Football Confederation for 2034.
Indonesia backs Saudis, Australia throws in the towel
A few hours later, Saudi Arabia officially threw its hat into the ring. Football Australia also signaled its interest, albeit rather half-heartedly, obviously in search of a co-host. At first, it looked like Indonesia could fit the bill, but just a week later, Erick Thohir, president of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), announced its support for the Saudi bid.
At an online meeting of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), FIFA President Gianni Infantino had previously called on its members to “be united for the 2034 World Cup.” Saudi media reported that more than 100 of FIFA’s 211 had expressed support for Riyadh’s bid.
Just hours before the FIFA deadline, Australia officially withdrew from the race.
“We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the FIFA World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” Football Australia said in a statement.
Human rights activists speak of sportswashing
Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in sports for years, including Formula 1, golf, and especially football. Superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Sadio Mane now earn their money in the Saudi league. In December, the Gulf state is to host the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time.
Human rights organizations accuse Riyadh of “sports washing” – the practice of using the glamor of sporting events to distract international attention from massive human rights violations being committed in the country.
“The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham,” Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden said in a statement.
Amnesty International called on FIFA to tie the 2034 World Cup bid to much-needed reforms in Saudi Arabia.
“FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies. It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice said in a statement.