Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday its intention to bid for the hosting rights of the FIFA World Cup 2034 in a move to establish itself as a prominent force in the world of sports.
The bid aims to bring forth a top-tier tournament and is inspired by the ongoing societal and economic transformation in the country, as well as the deep-rooted passion for football among its people, according to a statement released by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.
This development follows closely on the heels of Qatar’s historic hosting of the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East. Notably, during that tournament, the Saudi national team garnered global attention by defeating eventual champions Argentina in the group stage.
Building on this momentum, Saudi Arabia entered the world stage by securing the services of football icon Cristiano Ronaldo to play in the Saudi Pro League, a move that kick-started a trend of attracting renowned athletes to the world’s largest crude oil exporter through lucrative contracts.
Sports have become a pivotal component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform initiative. This visionary plan seeks to position Saudi Arabia as a premier destination for tourism and business while diversifying its economy away from fossil fuels.
In the upcoming weeks, the kingdom will be hosting a series of high-profile sporting events, including the final LIV Golf League tournament of the regular season, a boxing match featuring Anthony Joshua, and the Next Gen ATP Finals tennis tournament. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is set to host the FIFA Club World Cup in December, further cementing its status as a global sports hub.
It’s worth noting that earlier this year, Saudi Arabia was awarded the privilege of hosting the 2027 Asian Cup, and in the previous year, it secured the hosting rights for the 2029 Asian Winter Games, a 47-event extravaganza scheduled to take place in Trojena, a region within the futuristic megacity known as NEOM.
While Riyadh’s massive investments in sports have been met with accusations of “sportswashing,” a term used to describe the use of sports to divert attention from human rights concerns, Crown Prince Mohammed has been unapologetic about these efforts. He stated in a recent interview that he would continue with sportswashing if it benefits the Saudi economy.
Saudi Arabia had previously explored a joint World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but this plan has since been put on hold. The Asian Football Confederation has expressed support for Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup, with its president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, affirming the commitment of the entire Asian football community to ensuring the success of this ambitious initiative.