GENEVA– Saudi Arabia is all but certain to host the men’s 2034 World Cup after the Australian soccer federation decided not to enter the bidding contest, which had been widely seen as shaped by FIFA to suit the oil-rich kingdom.
FIFA had set Tuesday as the deadline for its member federations in Asia and Oceania to formally declare interest in hosting the tournament, and it later confirmed that only Saudi Arabia was in.
Australia’s decision not to enter the race left Saudi Arabia alone as a declared candidate — to the dismay of many human rights activists.
FIFA still needs to rubber stamp Saudi Arabia as the host — a decision that is likely to be made late next year — but that now seems a formality.
It would be the culmination of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious drive to become a major player in global sports, having already spent massive amounts on bringing in dozens of star soccer players to its domestic league, buying English soccer club Newcastle, launching the breakaway LIV Golf tour and hosting major boxing fights.
But FIFA’s seeming eagerness to pave the way for Saudi Arabia to host its marquee event has drawn widespread criticism from activists who say it exposes the governing body’s human rights commitments as “a sham.”
When FIFA made a deal this month to have just one host bid for the 2030 World Cup — uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco with three games placed in South America — it also fast-tracked the 2034 hosting race with only member federations in Asia and Oceania eligible to bid.
The tight deadline gave them less than four weeks to enter the race by Tuesday and just one month more to sign a bidding agreement with government support for staging 104 games over nearly six weeks.
Qatar hosted in November and December, in the heart of the European club soccer season, to avoid extreme heat in the summer months and a Saudi tournament likely also will be moved from the traditional June-July period. (AP)
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