If Australia does not apply, Saudi Arabia will secure the 2034 World Cup. There is no longer any doubt about that. Criticism only comes from expected sources. The surprise tactic works. A revolution is needed now, but who should lead it?
By Stephan Uersfeld
This article first appeared on ntv.de.
At least the world football association FIFA can be relied on these days. He continues to do what he wants and how he wants to do it and always goes the extra mile. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was followed at the beginning of the month by the dubious awarding of the 2030 World Cup, which, under the guise of an anniversary World Cup, opened the door wide for the 2034 World Cup host. Unless there is a revolution in the world association, that will be Saudi Arabia. That has been clear since Tuesday. With Australia, the last serious applicant has said goodbye to a race that never existed. The sole applicant for the 2034 World Cup must now take the final step in the fourth quarter of 2024. Then the FIFA Congress should approve the decision. That will happen. Criticism of this is hardly to be expected.
Nobody was paying attention anyway. Not when Saudi Arabia was positioning itself for a possible hosting in 2030 before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, not when FIFA President Gianni Infantino spoke about the next Winter World Cup during the Qatar tournament and not when The billions from the kingdom flooded the European leagues in the summer of 2023 – in return there were superstars as advertising ambassadors. With the Kingdom hosting the World Cup, football reaches a new level of ruthlessness that leaves almost everyone speechless.
But not Infantino, who added the crown of audacity to the bizarre spectacle on Tuesday evening. Like an almighty, he proclaims the World Cup to be perfect. The Swiss listed the upcoming venues and, in addition to the already officially known hosts USA, Canada and Mexico for 2026 as well as Spain, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay for 2030, also listed Saudi Arabia for 2034 and applauded “three editions, five continents and ten countries” that are involved in the event of “the biggest show in the world”. That makes football truly global. The application process, Infantino continued, was approved by consensus of the FIFA Council.
Football World Cup 2034 in Saudi Arabia: A plan as perfidious as it is simple
The plan to achieve the goal was as perfidious as it was simple. Instead of the planned World Cup bid for 2030 together with Egypt and Greece, the kingdom with the all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took the back seat. It left the first World Cup on three continents to South America (three games, one each in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay), Europe (Portugal and Spain) and Africa (Morocco). The way was clear for 2034, for which only states from the associations in Asia and Oceania could apply. Nobody did that.
Because Saudi Arabia has already been able to get too many individual associations behind it over the years and at this point in time it says it already has 100 countries behind it. The Saudis had traveled around the world in recent months and concluded basic agreements with a number of associations, including in Europe, where they reached an agreement with France. It was about sporting cooperation and of course the Saudis’ application.
The kingdom has an impressively negative human rights record. But also an even larger store of money and a lot more power. In the context of football and sports, Saudi Arabia has achieved spectacular dominance in recent months and years. They have taken over a club in Europe, Newcastle United, they have brought numerous European Super Cup finals into the country, they are sponsors of clubs that play in the Champions League and they have hijacked a number of sports. Golf, boxing and Formula 1 are no longer conceivable without Saudi Arabia, and tennis is also in their sights.
Germany is silent
What is called “sportswashing” in Europe is much more a grab for power in a global context and a hedge against unrest among its own population. It will be bread and circuses for the inhabitants of the kingdom. There is freedom of expression and assembly and dissidents have to fear for their lives. “If sportswashing increases my gross domestic product by one percent, then I will continue sportswashing,” Crown Prince bin Salman said in a rare interview in September, calling football part of the country’s diversification program. He said: “If you want to diversify an economy, you have to work in all sectors: mining, infrastructure, manufacturing, transport, logistics – all of it.” Part of it is tourism. “And if you want to develop tourism, part of it is culture, part of it is the sports sector, because you have to create a calendar.”
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Saudi Arabia can now add a new date to this calendar. Football was taken by surprise, which is also reflected in the silence in Germany. There, the curves in the stadiums played a key role in the anti-World Cup mood in the run-up to the tournament in Qatar in autumn 2022. Week after week they demonstrated fraternity in the stands against the largest sports tournament in the world. “Boycott Qatar” was the slogan on banners in Munich’s Allianz Arena, in Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, but also in the then fourth-class Sportpark Unterhaching or on the Bielefelder Alm. The fans took their displeasure directly into society, which was cheered on by numerous TV documentaries took out her keys and actually ignored the tournament in an unprecedented way.
The national team players, on the other hand, appeared helpless, complained that it was now too late and, as can be seen in the impressively desolate Amazon documentary about their failure, still struggled with their fate during the tournament. They transferred the responsibility for hosting the World Cup in Qatar to previous generations, from whom nothing had been heard. They were right about that. But they are making it too easy for themselves: the 2034 generation will simply be able to point to the silence of the 2023 generation.
Well-known narrative of powerlessness
The narrative of powerlessness is a well-known one. The DFB around President Bernd Neuendorf also used it in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup. Neuendorf, now a member of the FIFA Council, agreed to Gianni Infantino’s sleight of hand at the beginning of October and nodded off the World Cup being awarded to three continents in 2030. Possibly also because everything is always politics and the DFB wants to host the Women’s World Cup in 2027 together with Belgium and the Netherlands. Dissenting voices don’t do particularly well. So Neuendorf and with him the entire professional circus in Germany remains silent.
“FIFA continues its cycle of destroying the world’s greatest tournament. It is terrible for fans, disrespects the environment and rolls out the red carpet for a 2034 host with an appalling human rights record,” said Football Supporters Europe, the network European football fans, early October. While the Germany director of Human Rights Watch, Wenzel Michalski, sees a World Cup in Saudi Arabia as a betrayal of all those who would believe FIFA can actually implement its established human rights standards.
Based on the experience of the last few years, that shouldn’t be many anyway. Hardly anyone believes a word FIFA says about its President Infantino, but the association doesn’t care about it anyway. And the rest? There is little hope. “Saudi Arabia is simply a strong bid,” said Football Australia CEO James Johnson: “They have a lot of resources, not just for the 2034 World Cup. They have intervened as a disruptive force in European football. They have with their Geldern disrupted the market. That’s their strong positioning. Football is prioritized. It’s difficult to compete with that.”
They are sobering and realistic words in the face of the new giant on the football stage. Australia will pick up the breadcrumbs and perhaps be fobbed off by FIFA with the Club World Cup for the trouble-free bidding process. This is also predictable. Like everything with FIFA, which puts money above all else and will continue to abuse football and present it as saving the world. “We have to protect the game, otherwise everything will be destroyed,” said FIFA rebel Lise Klaveness this summer.
Nobody complies with the request of the President of the Norwegian Football Association. The game has finally surrendered and only a revolution can prevent this. But there are no leaders for that. The surprised masses remain silent and allow themselves to be fobbed off.
I am Pierce Boyd, a driven and ambitious professional working in the news industry. I have been writing for 24 Hours Worlds for over five years, specializing in sports section coverage. During my tenure at the publication, I have built an impressive portfolio of articles that has earned me a reputation as an experienced journalist and content creator.