Sports writer Aiman Fariz Zaqwan Bin Akmal Hizam discusses the plans for FIFA.
The men’s FIFA World Cup, often considered the pinnacle of international soccer, gathers the world’s best footballing nations to compete for the World Cup trophy.
In the race to host the 2034 World Cup, Saudi Arabia emerged as the likely winner after Australia’s soccer federation announced that it would not bid for the tournament. Saudi Arabia had signaled its intent to bid weeks earlier, aiming to bring the world’s most-watched sporting event back to the Gulf. The country officially announced its bid on Oct. 4, 2023, which came just weeks after the nation had abandoned its bid to co-host the 2030 World Cup with Greece and Egypt. On Oct. 5, the President of the Asian Football Confederation Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, voiced his support for Saudi Arabia’s bid.
“I am delighted to note that the SAFF have presented their intention to bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2034. 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,” said Al Khalifa.
On Oct. 9, Saudi Arabia announced that it had submitted the official letter of intent and signed the declaration to FIFA, receiving support from over 70 different member associations. If successful, Saudi Arabia will become the fourth Asian country to host a World Cup, following Qatar’s hosting in the previous edition. Australia had initially expressed interest in hosting the event but made its final decision just hours before FIFA’s deadline for nations to express their intentions to host the World Cup. This left Saudi Arabia as the only host candidate for the 2034 edition.
Hosting the World Cup would bring together two influential figures in the soccer world: FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Notably, The Crown Prince played a pivotal role in the past two seasons, approving substantial investments in Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Pro League, which attracted prominent names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to Saudi clubs.
“Football unites the world like no other sport, and the World Cup is the perfect showcase for a message of unity and inclusion. This is going to be our mission again. Different cultures can come together,” said Gianni Infantino, the current FIFA president, emphasizing the unifying power of football.
If Saudi Arabia becomes the host, its national soccer team would gain automatic qualification to the tournament, marking its seventh appearance in the World Cup. In the last edition in Qatar, it secured its only victory in a group-stage match against Argentina, defeating the tournament champions 1-2. Following this news, Asia will also have the opportunity to host the soccer world’s premier competition in 2034 for the third time in its history, after the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Republic/Japan and FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
The final format of the 2034 tournament is yet to be determined, with the possibility of maintaining a 32-team format, as seen in Qatar’s World Cup, or adopting a 48-team format, which will be used in the 2026 World Cup jointly hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.