The Creeping Inevitability Of Saudi Arabia Hosting The World Cup in 2034

The Gulf state bid will now run unopposed after Australia pulled out on Tuesday
10:00, 01 Nov 2023

Saudi Arabia will run unopposed in their effort to host the 2034 World Cup. Australia announced they would not lodge a bid just hours before FIFA’s ‘declarations of interest’ deadline on Tuesday night. In a statement, the Australian FA said, “We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the Fifa World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition”.

This means Saudi Arabia once again finds itself as the protagonist, or antagonist depending on your point of view, in another pivotal world sporting event. This year has seen their off-the-rack attempt to create a football league to rival the Premier League and La Liga and the Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou crossover boxing match. They have upcoming shows for WWE and UFC on the docket as well as the Spanish, Italian and Turkish Super Cups. To list everything that ‘Riyadh Season’ encompasses would take up this entire article. To put it bluntly, Saudi Arabia is involved in almost every major sport you can imagine in a big way.

Therefore it feels like a creeping inevitability that the Gulf state would be awarded a World Cup. Saudi Arabia’s most publicised investment has been in the world of football. The Saudi Pro League now boasts Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and an array of big name talent. Meanwhile, the Saudi Public Investment Fund has taken over Newcastle United and taken the club from the brink of relegation into the Champions League. In Saudi Arabia’s bid to diversify its economy, football is central to the whole operation.

But there’s more to it than that, of course. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to become a sports and entertainment capital hide some ugly truths. Amnesty International published findings in September that there had been 100 executions in the country thus far in 2023. The month of August saw the figure rise to four executions a week. A report by the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights goes into depth about some of these known cases, many of which were for alleged crimes in which confessions were gained through torture.


It is a crime to be homosexual in Saudi Arabia. We are just coming off the back of a World Cup in Qatar, another country where that was the case. Once again, the so-called ‘world’s game’ is seeking to stage an event in which a large percentage of the citizens of that world would not just be excluded but endangered. 

FIFA following the money should come as no surprise by now. The 2018 World Cup in Russia brought its own controversies, concerns which seem even worse in hindsight given what has transpired since in Ukraine. A tournament which used to be a beacon of all that was good about football is now a carpet under which to sweep a nation’s gruesome ills.

For some, the executions and the fact you cannot legally be gay in Saudi Arabia will not register. Or if they do register, they will be met with whataboutism-filled rebuttals. You only have to see the treatment some journalists have got for reporting on the Newcastle ownership. Indeed, for many fans as long as sport is being delivered and it is of a high quality, little else matters. The Qatar World Cup entertained us on the pitch. So much so that it wasn’t even ruined by the grim spectacle of Lionel Messi’s long-awaited trophy lift coming when he had been cynically draped in a traditional bisht, forever tying his moment of triumph to the country of Qatar and its questionable regime.

See also: last weekend’s star-studded boxing attraction. While people are talking about Ngannou’s incredible performance and Fury’s uncertain future, they aren’t talking about the fact journalist Jamal Khasoggi was killed by agents of the Saudi government in 2018. 

Saudi Arabia is successfully becoming known for financial largesse and glitzy sporting events. For Cristiano Ronaldo and Tyson Fury. For ringside seats filled by Eminem and the Undertaker and for bringing the good times to St James’ Park. What people are forgetting is the litany of human rights abuses underpinning it all. Unfortunately, a World Cup will only make matters worse. Riyadh Season will continue for a long time yet.

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