The 2030 World Cup may not be coming to Saudi Arabia but the Kingdom is making the early running for the one after, especially as Asian leaders are already expressing support.
On Wednesday, FIFA announced that the 2030 spectacle will be staged jointly by Morocco, Spain and Portugal. Not just that but Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay will get an opening game each as part of the centenary celebrations for the first ever World Cup that took place in South America in 1930.
It will, to say the least, be an interesting experience for fans across three continents but for supporters in Saudi Arabia, the focus is now on 2034. There is still a long way to go before any decision is made but, for the first time, an official announcement has been made by leaders in Saudi Arabia of their plans to stage the biggest sporting event in the world. It is a big step.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, minister of sport and president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation. As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.”
The 2030 decision is likely to play into the hands of Saudi Arabia. After Qatar last year, the next World Cup will be in North America — the US, Canada and Mexico. The one after that, we know now, will be in Europe with some help from Africa, and there is also that South American flavor as well. This means that since 2022, every confederation (apart from Oceania) will have hosted a World Cup game except Asia.
So 2034 could well be Asia’s turn and that spells good news for Saudi Arabia. It was notable that soon after FIFA’s announcement, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa was throwing the body’s support behind Riyadh.
“I am delighted to note that the SAFF have presented their intention to bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2034,” he said. “The entire Asian football family will stand united in support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s momentous initiative, and we are committed to working closely with the global football family to ensure its success.”
First, however, comes the 2027 Asian Cup, which could end up being a perfect preparation for a successful bid to stage the big one.
“We have full confidence that the SAFF will deliver an extraordinary AFC Asian Cup and carry this same belief into delivering an unforgettable FIFA World Cup, offering an excellent opportunity to football fans from across the world to experience a unique and spectacular celebration of the beautiful game,” added Al-Khalifa. As well as the Asian tournament, Jeddah will host this year’s FIFA Club World Cup.
All this does not mean that there will be an easy run if the 2034 World Cup does turn out to be set for Asia. Australia and New Zealand, fresh after hosting a very successful women’s tournament this summer, could join hands with a major Asian nation like Indonesia to make a bid. That could be a tempting proposition for countries from the opposite side of Asia.
That is still in the future. At the moment, there will be celebration that the event is returning to the Arab world, especially in Morocco. The North African country has been in international headlines of late due to the tragic earthquake that hit in September. But in football terms, there has been unprecedented success.
In 2022, the men reached the semifinals of the World Cup, captivating the global football community. Just before, the women reached the final of the Women’s African Cup of Nations and became the first Arab team to qualify for the World Cup where, this summer, the Atlas Lionesses then shocked the world again by reaching the knockout stage.
Last week, it was confirmed that Morocco will host the 2025 African Cup of Nations and now the 2030 World Cup will come to North Africa.
Fouzi Lekjaa, president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, said: “This is an important moment in Morocco’s history, a great achievement under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. It’s an honor and a responsibility we have in front of us and a privilege to join forces with Portugal and Spain to prepare a candidacy dossier that will, I’m sure, make history and drive the organization to a new level.”
Few would begrudge Morocco this good news but there could well be a second successive World Cup in the Arab region. Thoughts in Saudi Arabia will already be wandering to 2034 and while these are very early days, the signs are good.