Saudi Arabia emerged on Tuesday as the likely winner in the shortened race to host the 2034 World Cup after the Australian Football Federation announced it would not bid for the tournament. The decision has arguably removed the only obstacle standing in Saudi Arabia’s way of bringing the world’s most watched sporting event back to the Gulf.
Australia announced its decision hours before a deadline set by football’s governing body, FIFA, for countries to express interest in hosting the World Cup. Saudi Arabia made it clear weeks ago that it intends to make a bid, and FIFA’s rules – and powerful allies – have all but ensured that it will prevail.
In a sudden and surprising move earlier this month, FIFA announced a shortened bidding timeline for the tournament, telling interested countries they had just 25 days to formally declare their interest and make extensive declarations of government support for a event with 48 teams in multiple cities. usually requires billions of dollars and years of planning.
The decision to shorten that timeline to just a matter of weeks was announced on the same day FIFA formally announced that the 2030 World Cup would be shared between countries in Europe, Africa and South America.
FIFA’s decision to accelerate bidding for 2034 surprised many, coming eleven years before the tournament’s scheduled start and more than three years before the 2034 host would be decided. FIFA also said only bidders from Asia and Oceania, two of the six regional football federations, would be eligible for selection.
Saudi Arabia, which has publicly stated its desire to host the World Cup for years, especially after neighboring Qatar won the rights to the 2022 championship, moved quickly to secure the tournament after FIFA changed the rules this month established. Its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced the kingdom’s intention to make a bid within minutes of FIFA’s announcement of the official timeline, and within hours the Saudis had won the support of Asia’s football leaders .
Australia, widely regarded as an outsider, had said it would explore the idea of boosting the men’s tournament after successfully hosting this year’s Women’s World Cup. But on Tuesday it announced that it had decided not to make an official bid and would instead focus on organizing other events.
“We wish FIFA and the eventual host of the 2034 FIFA World Cup the greatest success for the good of the game and for all who love our sport,” the Australian federation said in a statement on its website.
Australian officials may have concluded that they would have been outmatched if they had challenged Saudi Arabia to secure the votes of the majority of FIFA’s 211 federations. Saudi Arabia has signed deals with numerous FIFA member states in the past year, and had also secured crucial support from the Asian Football Federation, of which Australia is also a member.
Almost as soon as Saudi Arabia signaled its intention to make a bid, the President of the Asian Confederation, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa of Bahrain, announced that “the entire Asian football family will stand united in support” of the Saudi bid.