Apogee of its rise to sporting power, Saudi Arabia should be entrusted in a year with the organization of the 2034 World Cup: the kingdom ultraconservative is alone in the running, announced Fifa on Tuesday, promising many questions around human rights.
Already interested in the 2030 World Cup alongside Egypt and Greece – a candidacy abandoned to make way for a new tricontinental formula (Spain-Portugal-Morocco with three matches in South America) – Saudi Arabia is was postponed to the 2034 edition on October 4, as soon as the procedure was launched.
Due to continental rotation, Fifa had only “invited” to apply the member countries of the Asian and Oceanian confederations – therefore excluding the historic football territories. Of the 22 past editions of the men's tournament, none have been held in Oceania and only two in Asia: that of 2002 between Japan and South Korea, and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Indonesia had for a time considered a joint file with Australia, before joining the Saudi offer on October 19 by shifting its ambitions to post-2034. As for Australia, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2018 and 2022 editions, it in turn threw in the towel on Tuesday.
Formally, for the moment it is only a matter of listing the “declarations of interest” for 2030 and 2034, before submission of complete files and evaluation by Fifa. And “if the requirements are met”, the 211 member countries of the body will elect the hosts by two separate Congresses at the end of next year.
– Superpower in the making –
But the absence of competition leaves little room for suspense, and the way seems clear for Saudi Arabia to establish itself a little more as a superpower in world sport, having increased its investments in football but also in Formula 1, golf, horse riding or boxing.
Far from being a constellation of private initiatives, this policy emanates directly from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who intends to transform his kingdom into a country of business and tourism to reduce its dependence on oil revenues and, according to his detractors, divert international attention from its human rights violations.
As for major competitions, the country is already preparing to host the next FIFA Club World Cup (December 12-22) then the 2027 Asian Football Cup and, more unexpectedly and widely criticized, the Asian Games. winter 2029 in its futuristic Neom complex under construction.
But by winning the most popular tournament in the world, the Saudi kingdom is doing better than responding to its neighbor and rival Qatar, surprise host of the 2022 World Cup.< /p>
Because it will no longer be a question of hosting 32 national selections but 48, from the 2026 edition shared between the United States, Canada and Mexico, i.e. a gargantuan menu of 104 matches requiring “a minimum of 14 stadiums” of 40,000 at 80,000 seats and at least “72 base camps”, details Fifa.
– “Own goal” –
Saudi Arabia, which has already spent all azimuths this year to recruit a host of football stars, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Karim Benzema, will have to accelerate further to become the first country to host the new formula of the competition on its own.
If its financial capacity is hardly in doubt, the questions mainly concern the compatibility of such a designation with Fifa's commitments to “respect internationally recognized human rights” in its competitions.
This criterion, like environmental sustainability, certainly appears in the award procedure and will be examined by Fifa in a report published next year. But what will this evaluation weigh?
“With only one candidacy for each edition, Fifa may have scored an own goal,” laments Steve Cockburn, of Amnesty International, in a joint press release from the Sports and Rights Alliance organization, bringing together NGOs, unions and representatives of supporters and players.
In a separate text, Human Rights Watch called on the world body to “defer” the attribution of the 2034 World Cup, considering that it had “failed” to carry out an “ethical, transparent, objective and impartial” procedure.
“With around 13.4 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, inadequate labor and health protections, lack of unions, independent human rights and press freedom observers, there is every reason to fear for the lives of those who will build and maintain stadiums, transport, hotels and other hospitality infrastructure” , detailed Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for the organization.
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