Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2034 men’s FIFA World Cup after Australia withdrew its interest in hosting the global showpiece just hours before the bid deadline on Tuesday. “We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the FIFA World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” Football Australia said in a statement . Instead the Australia football federation has opted to proceed with their bids for the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2029.
Australia’s withdrawal leaves Saudi Arabia as the only confirmed bidder. The Gulf nation announced its bid on October 4 immediately following FIFA’s surprise invitation for expressions of interest from only Asia and Oceania for the 2034 tournament. In a press release sent out on Tuesday, FIFA confirmed that Saudi Arabia was the only bidder for the 2034 tournament. However, FIFA said that it will still “conduct thorough bidding and evaluation processes” for the 2030 and 2034 tournaments, with the hosts set to be confirmed by October.
Spain, Portugal and Morocco are due to co-host the 2030 tournament, while Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina will all stage an opening match each to mark 100 years since the first World Cup took place. FIFA added that it will remain in contact with the bidders to ensure that “complete, comprehensive bids” are received, which will then be evaluated against the “minimum hosting requirements as previously approved by the FIFA Council.”
FIFA says the “priority areas” for the bids are infrastructure, services, commercial and sustainability, and human rights.
In recent years Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of major sports events – notably in Formula One and boxing – while its investment in the LIV Golf Tour and the Saudi Pro League, which has seen many leading soccer stars move to Saudi Arabian clubs, has arguably disrupted sports’ world order. To host the World Cup would be viewed as a major coup for Saudi Arabia, which has been frequently been criticized of sportswashing . In September, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said he didn’t care about the country’s investment in sport being described as sportswashing .
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“Well if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then I will continue doing sportswashing,” MBS said in an interview with Fox News which aired on September 23. Pressed on if he was bothered by the use of the term, MBS continued: “I don’t care. I have one percent GDP growth from sport, and I am aiming for another one and a half percent.
Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one and a half percent.”
On Tuesday, the Sports & Rights Alliance, a global coalition of nine human rights and anti-corruption advocates in sports, urged FIFA to secure human rights protections for the 2030 and the 2034 World Cup tournaments. “With only a single bid for each tournament on the table, FIFA may have scored an own goal,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice. “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.”
The Sports and Rights alliance added: “The best chance for FIFA to obtain binding guarantees to protect workers’ rights, ensure freedom of expression and prevent discrimination linked to the World Cup is during the host selection process – not after the hosts have been confirmed and tournament preparation has begun. “Human rights commitments must be agreed with potential hosts before final decisions on holding the tournaments are made.”
CNN has reached out to the Saudi Arabia Football Federation for comment.
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