2034 World Cup Hosting Shifts to Saudi Arabia as Australia Opts Out

In a statement released on Tuesday, Football Australia announced its decision not to pursue hosting the 2034 competition, just hours before FIFA's deadline for expressions of interest. This development sets the stage for Saudi Arabia to take on the role of hosting the global soccer tournament a decade from now, a decision likely to spark considerable controversy.

If selected, Saudi Arabia would become the second Arab Gulf country to host the World Cup, following Qatar's hosting in 2022. Qatar's selection as a host previously drew criticism from human rights activists who highlighted concerns about migrant worker abuse, treatment of the LGBT community, and limitations on free speech. Despite denials from Qatar regarding reported worker deaths during stadium construction and assurances of openness, these issues remained points of contention among critics. Additionally, holding the World Cup in the winter due to the extreme summer temperatures in the Gulf region disappointed some fans.

In contrast, the 2030 FIFA World Cup will be jointly hosted by Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, with the initial three matches scheduled to take place in South America.

However, Saudi Arabia has faced scrutiny for its documented human rights violations, including restrictions on women's rights and the criminalization of homosexuality. Reports from Amnesty International in 2022 indicated a significant increase in executions, reaching the highest yearly number in 30 years, with 196 people executed.

When questioned about the kingdom's human rights record, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman acknowledged dissatisfaction with certain laws but claimed an inability to interfere with the judiciary. However, this assertion has been refuted by Saudi observers and rights activists.

Saudi Arabia's substantial financial investment in sports and international sporting events, part of its Vision 2030 initiative to diversify its economy away from oil, has faced criticism from human rights groups, labeling it as "sportswashing." In response, the Saudi leadership expressed a lack of concern, stating a willingness to continue with these investments if they contribute to the country's GDP growth.

Over the span of early 2021 to June 2023, the kingdom reportedly spent $6.1 billion on sports investments, with acquisitions not limited to soccer. The nation secured prominent athletes such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Moussa Dembele, and Riyad Mahrez across various sports, including soccer, boxing, golf, and auto racing.

Moreover, a surprising merger between Saudi Arabia's LIV Golf tournament and the American PGA Tour in June stirred controversy among sports enthusiasts, athletes, and even U.S. lawmakers, underscoring concerns over Saudi Arabia's increasing influence in the world of sports.