Saudi Arabia has been chosen as the host country for the men’s 2034 World Cup, as Australia has decided not to bid for the opportunity to host the tournament.
Football Australia confirmed its decision just hours before the deadline set by FIFA for declarations of interest on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia is the only other nation that has submitted a bid.
Australia’s Concerns and Withdrawal
Australia, known for its passionate sporting culture and world-class facilities, had been considered a strong contender to host the 2034 World Cup. However, the Australian Football Federation (AFF) announced its decision not to bid for the tournament due to various financial and logistical concerns.
Football Australia has released a statement stating that they have decided not to participate in the 2034 competition.
“We have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” the statement read.
The governing body of Australia has announced its intention to prioritise hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Club World Cup in 2029.
The 2026 World Cup is scheduled to be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Morocco, Portugal, and Spain will serve as the tournament’s hosts for the 2030 World Cup, with Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay hosting additional games.
FIFA announced that the 2034 World Cup would be held in either Asia or Oceania. Following this decision, Saudi Arabia expressed its intention to bid for hosting the tournament, with Australia being seen as the only other potential contender.
The news took many by surprise, as Australia had been preparing for a bid campaign that was expected to be highly competitive.
Human Rights Concerns
However, Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a potential host has not come without controversy. Concerns about the nation’s human rights record have cast a shadow over the bid. Human rights organisations and activists have raised issues related to freedom of expression, gender equality, and the treatment of foreign workers in the country. The government has been under scrutiny for its record on these matters.
The country has faced criticism due to its human rights violations, including the execution of 81 men in a single day last year. Other concerns include women’s rights abuses, the criminalization of homosexuality, restrictions on free speech, and involvement in the war in Yemen.
The 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist based in the US who was known for his criticism of the government, had a significant negative impact on Saudi Arabia’s reputation on the global stage.
Human rights campaigners argue that the Saudi government is utilising sport as a means to divert attention from their longstanding reputation issues, a practice commonly referred to as ‘sportswashing’.
Last week, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the potential decision by Fifa to award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup. They highlighted Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record and lack of transparency in allowing monitoring, suggesting that Fifa’s purported commitment to human rights may not hold true.
“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,” they said.
Amnesty International called on FIFA on Tuesday to obtain “clear and binding commitments” from Saudi Arabia.
It is important to establish human rights commitments with potential hosts before making final decisions on hosting the tournaments.
“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,” they said.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a passionate football enthusiast, expressed his excitement at the prospect of hosting the world’s most prestigious football tournament. He stated, “Saudi Arabia is ready to welcome the world and make the 2034 FIFA World Cup a spectacular celebration of football and unity. We have the infrastructure, passion, and dedication to host an unforgettable tournament.”
Saudi Arabia boasts a robust infrastructure and has invested heavily in sports facilities in recent years, making it a suitable candidate to host the World Cup. The nation’s bid is expected to highlight its state-of-the-art stadiums, modern transportation networks, and a welcoming atmosphere for fans from around the globe.
Qatar’s Successful Hosting Despite Initial Concerns
It is worth noting that the hosting of major sporting events in the Middle East has been a topic of debate. In 2022, Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup amid initial concerns about the nation’s human rights record, labour conditions, and climate challenges. However, the tournament proved to be a remarkable success, with state-of-the-art stadiums, a welcoming atmosphere, and well-organized facilities that won over both fans and players. The experience of Qatar hosting the World Cup serves as a precedent for the potential success of Saudi Arabia’s bid.
The 2034 FIFA World Cup promises to be a highly competitive race among aspiring hosts, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead as the frontrunner. FIFA will decide on the tournament’s location in the upcoming years, and football fans all over the world are eagerly awaiting the announcement. As the world watches, concerns over human rights in Saudi Arabia will continue to be a central point of discussion and debate, with the successful 2022 World Cup in Qatar serving as a reference point.