Saudi Arabia’s bid to host Fifa’s 2034 World Cup is almost certain to be successful after the only other expected bidder, Australia, withdrew from the bidding process on the 31 October deadline day.
It is a pivotal moment for Saudi Arabia as it validates much of the social and economic change that the kingdom has embarked upon since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030 back in 2016. Although neighbouring Qatar was preparing to host the 2022 tournament in 2016, the suggestion of Saudi Arabia hosting the tournament in the future would have been dismissed as fantasy. Six years later, that prospect is almost certainly about to become reality.
Experience from Qatar and other countries has shown that hosting the tournament can be transformative for a country’s economy. The tournament brings in fans from around the world to enjoy a month-long festival of football. After the 2022 tournament, Qatar issued a statement saying that more than 1.4 million fans had visited the country during the event.
The large influx of people requires transport infrastructure, hotels and stadiums, as well as societal changes as nations prepare to host the world. In the past, Saudi Arabia may have been able to meet the tournament’s infrastructure demands, but its society was not ready to host a global sporting event.
Today, that is not the case. Two landmark decisions – the opening of cinemas and allowing women to drive – were clear demonstrations that modern Saudi Arabia is different from the past. At the same time, there have been countless other changes, such as the annual Riyadh Season, the recent investment in domestic football teams and the development of luxury hotel resorts, which show that Saudi Arabia in 2023 has become a modern country with ambitions to do even more.
The successful bid for the 2034 World Cup shows that Saudi Arabia’s ambitions can be realised.
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