Saudi Arabia to bid for 2034 World Cup, Morocco will co-host 2030 tournament
Morocco has won the right to co-host the 2030 Fifa World Cup, and Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to bid for the 2034 hosting rights.
Saudi Arabia made the announcement on Wednesday through its state news agency, SPA.
The 2030 edition will mark the centenary of the tournament, as the first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. The three opening matches will be played in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay, making it the first World Cup to be held across six countries on three continents.
“In a divided world, Fifa and football are uniting,” said Fifa's president, Gianni Infantino.
The joint bid from Morocco, Spain and Portugal was the sole bid for 2030 and has thus been awarded the rights.
The last World Cup to be held in Asia - and the first in the Middle East - was hosted by Qatar in 2022. The Asian and Oceanic confederations regain the right to host by 2034.
For 2034, it is anticipated that Australia may set up a bid to challenge Saudi Arabia, and China could throw its hat in the ring as well.
The 2026 World Cup will be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico.
Qatar's bidding process was peppered with controversy and allegations of corruption, including the bribing of Fifa officials to win the right to host. After winning the right to host, the country faced a barrage of "sportswashing" criticism in the run-up to, and during, the tournament.
Qatar was widely accused in the media of using the tournament as a means to cleanse its reputation over migrant labour rights in the country. One analysis claimed that as many as 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar after the tournament was awarded to the Gulf nation.
Argentina won the 2022 tournament after a 37-year hiatus, last winning the cup in Mexico in 1986, with Diego Maradona famously leading the country to victory.
Saudi Arabia has long been a stalwart for football in the Middle East, with its team qualifying for six World Cups and winning two Asian Cups.
Its domestic league, the Saudi Pro League, doesn't share the prestige of the big European leagues, but it recently shocked the football world by attracting some of the world's biggest stars.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane and over a dozen others were lured in by the league's massive summer spending.
The Saudi league is not beholden to UEFA's spending limits like its European counterparts are and can offer eyewatering amounts of money to land big stars who wouldn't previously have considered Saudi Arabia as a footballing destination.
Cristiano Ronaldo for example, is set to make $220m over a two-and-a-half-year period with Al Nassr FC. Several of the highest-paid footballers on earth now ply their trade in the Saudi league.
The kingdom has made an effort to diversify its economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels and sports has been a very public component of that strategy. Saudi Arabia is bound to face the same sort of accusations that Qatar did, and it already has for the sporting ventures it has recently undertaken.
Earlier this year it was announced that the Saudi sovereign wealth fund would take control of four of the country's biggest football clubs.
Several other clubs are also being restructured to bring in other investors, with the Saudi government estimating they can raise the annual revenue from $120m in 2022 to $480m moving forward. The government aims to bring the total valuation of the league ($800m currently) to $8bn by 2030.
Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund recently made waves in the US by setting up LIV Golf as a rival to the PGA Tour in the US and then merging the two in a mega-deal that has invited scrutiny about antitrust violations from the US Justice Department.
Saudi Arabia initially wanted to co-host the 2030 edition of the cup with Egypt and Greece, to coincide with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030.