GENEVA (AP) — Saudi Arabia formally informed FIFA of its wish to host the men’s World Cup in 2034 on Monday in a bidding contest that increasingly looks designed for the kingdom to win.
The Saudi Arabian soccer federation said it “submitted a letter of intent and signed declaration to FIFA to bid” in a vote that is open only to members of the Asian and Oceania soccer governing bodies.
FIFA fast-tracked starting the 2034 contest last week after its ruling body also agreed to accept only one candidate for the 2030 World Cup — now an unprecedented six-nation, three-continent co-hosting plan in Europe, Africa and South America that removed those continents from bidding to get back-to-back tournaments.
The Spain-Portugal-Morocco-Argentina-Paraguay-Uruguay project in 2030 will follow the inaugural 48-team, 104-game tournament in 2026 in the United States, Mexico and Canada. That allows the 2034 edition to return to Asia 12 years after Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup.
Last week, FIFA set tight deadlines of Oct. 31 to formally express interest in hosting and Nov. 30 to return a signed bidding agreement that requires the support of national governments.
Australian soccer officials have shown interest in the 2034 tournament after successfully co-hosting the 32-team women’s edition with New Zealand two months ago, but they now have only eight weeks to produce a bidding agreement.
Australia also may be short of the FIFA-demanded seven existing stadiums on a minimum slate of 14 soccer-suitable venues of at least 40,000-seating capacity.
Saudi Arabia, which is preparing to host the 2027 Asian Cup, meets that FIFA criteria.
The Saudi Arabian soccer federation also cited public pledges of support from “over 70” of FIFA’s 211 member federations.
The aim is “unlocking new football opportunities at all levels and commitment to support the growth of the game across all corners of the globe,” said the Saudi federation, which has been signing working agreements with national and continental soccer bodies around the world over the past two years.
FIFA members will have the final rubber-stamping decision on picking the 2030 and 2034 World Cup hosts late next year, though the 37-member FIFA Council chaired by president Gianni Infantino has already shaped the process.
Infantino has built close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on frequent visits to the oil-rich kingdom since before the 2018 World Cup.
The Saudi soccer project has seen the sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund buy English club Newcastle in 2021. PIF also took majority control this year of four leading Saudi clubs which have spent massively this season on bringing players from European clubs, including Neymar and Karim Benzema.
A Saudi-hosted World Cup, as in Qatar last year, likely would be played in November-December during the heart of the European season, and that will require dealing with influential European clubs and domestic leagues.
The FIFA Council which agreed to the 2034 World Cup bidding process included nine delegates from European soccer body UEFA, which now has the 2030 tournament.
The council was scheduled in June to approve bidding rules for 2030 but delayed that decision days after the Greek government said a speculated Saudi-led co-hosting plan that also included Egypt had been dropped.
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