After Australia dropped out as a possible organizer, the 2034 FIFA World Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia. ‘A shame’, says human rights organization Human Rights Watch.
The decision has yet to be ratified, but FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has already confirmed it on social media: the 2034 FIFA World Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia. As with Qatar, there is criticism for its poor human rights situation, but this will probably have little effect. The football world easily gets over this and the few critics are faced with a fait accompli: the country is the only candidate.
The last potential organizer also dropped out on Tuesday. The Australian Football Association had to announce by October 31 whether it was interested in organizing the tournament. But “after considering all factors” the association concluded it would not compete for the 2034 tournament.
That is not surprising, because almost all of those factors pointed in the direction of the Middle East. At the beginning of October, the FIFA Council, consisting of 37 football officials from around the world, cleared the way for Saudi Arabia, a loyal partner and financier of the association, with a series of decisions. The kingdom is active as a sponsor and will organize the Club World Cup in December, which FIFA would like to make more important.
It started with the allocation of the 2030 World Cup to no fewer than six countries on three continents. The tournament is mainly held in neighboring countries Spain, Portugal and Morocco, but the first three matches will take place in three South American countries: Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay. According to FIFA, this is to commemorate the first World Cup, which was held in Uruguay in 1930.
“A great message of peace, tolerance and inclusion,” FIFA called it, conveniently putting aside logistical and environmental concerns. Europe, Africa and South America could all be satisfied with a bit of a World Cup, but the real winner of the football political game was in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Because the championship rotates, only countries from Asia and Oceania could raise their hands before 2034. FIFA increased the pressure with a tight deadline: countries had to announce their interest at the end of October. Saudi Arabia did not need that long: an hour later the country declared its candidacy.
A one-two punch between FIFA boss Gianni Infantino and the powers that be in Saudi Arabia? It certainly seems so, also because other obstacles were immediately removed. For example, FIFA had a rule that seven of the fourteen World Cup stadiums had to already exist. Since the beginning of October, there are only four: exactly the number that Saudi Arabia already has available.
The autocratically governed country where women have fewer rights than men, homosexuality is prohibited and critics of the regime are not sure of their lives is now the only one left on the red carpet that FIFA has rolled out. Human rights organization Human Rights Watch calls it “a shame” and that criticism will undoubtedly continue.
This was also the case in the run-up to the World Cup in Qatar, which was held at the end of last year. But that tournament went ahead despite mounting evidence of corruption in the run-up. Once a tournament is assigned, there is hardly any way back.
Things are not as messy as they were back then, FIFA has learned that lesson. The decision must still be ratified by next year’s FIFA Congress, where all 211 member countries will vote. But with one remaining candidate, the outcome will not be very exciting, especially because many countries have already pledged their support to Saudi Arabia.
Because that is the reality: the football world does not care much about human rights. The World Cup in Qatar is seen by many as a success and immediately afterwards Cristiano Ronaldo signed a contract in Saudi Arabia that earned him hundreds of millions. Once he broke the spell, dozens of others followed. Many on social media are very enthusiastic about the coming of the World Cup to the country where they work.
Critical football associations, especially from some Western European countries, are adapting to this. The outrage that was still heard after the allocation to Qatar has long since given way to pragmatism. In the spring, the unions voted for the re-election of Gianni Infantino as Fifa boss, who was then the only remaining candidate. And they consider themselves fortunate to have the human rights commission set up by FIFA.
Countries that want to organize the World Cup must also include a chapter in their plan on the human rights situation in their country. There will undoubtedly be many nice words in it, including about human rights, but does that matter if there is only one candidate who has already convinced a large part of the world? ‘Shouting no loudly’ may not yield much, but after the past month it is even more difficult to maintain that ‘exercising influence’ within FIFA has a big impact.