Saudi Arabia bid for 2034 World Cup strengthened after Australia and New Zealand hit hurdle

Saudi Arabia bid for 2034 World Cup strengthened after Australia and New Zealand hit hurdle

4 mins read

Australia and New Zealand are scrambling to come up with solutions to name the 14 stadiums necessary for a World Cup 2034 bid in time for the 31 October deadline, potentially clearing the way for Saudi Arabia even more.

Fifa‘s requirements state that all of the stadiums must have a capacity of at least 40,000 seats, but there are currently only 11 that fit that profile across the two countries.

What’s more, some of the Australian stadiums that meet the criteria are cricket ovals, with sightlines that aren’t really suitable for football. The bidding documents do state that only four of the named venues need to be “existing stadiums” but it is naturally asking a lot to secure construction commitments in the 26 days between the bidding process opening and closing.

The circumstances have brought further commentary within the game that the 2034 bidding has almost been set up as a fait accompli for Saudi Arabia, and they had their potential bid ready to go once the process was announced. With Jordan Henderson and Saudi Pro League players backing the bid.

The country is currently undergoing a huge sporting expansion, and staging the World Cup is seen as a huge part of Mohammed Bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’. Although the 2030 event had initially been the target, Saudi Arabia was politically outmanoeuvred by the initial Portugal-Spain bid, as Morocco was brought in to split the African vote.

The fact it was the centenary of the competition only strengthened the idea of a cross-continental event, with Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay subsequently brought in for the opening games.

Saudi Arabia instead decided to shift all energy to a 2034 bid, in which the rules behind continental rotation mean that World Cup can only be held in Asia or Oceania.

It makes Australia-New Zealand the only likely competitor for 2034, although with increasing complications.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino alongside Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud at the 2018 World Cup

(Getty Images)

A statement from Football Australia CEO James Johnson read: “As stated previously, Football Australia is exploring the possibility of bidding for the 2029 Fifa Club World Cup and/or the Fifa World Cup 2034. We acknowledge Fifa’s communication regarding the Fifa World Cup 2034 and we are encouraged that after the hugely successful Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 and Fifa Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023, the football family of Asia and Oceania will once again have the opportunity to showcase their ability to welcome the world and host the best Fifa tournaments.”

The reference to the Asia football family has been interpreted as instructive by involved figures. Another complicated solution for Australia and New Zealand is to potentially bring in a third partner, but that would inevitably have to be a country from thousands of miles away in the Asian Football Confederation. It is understood that the body have made it clear Saudi Arabia is their preferred choice, putting off any bid from Japan and Korea.

The prohibitive circumstances also illustrate how limiting a 48-team competition is going to be in finding hosts in the future.

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