Complex Made Simple

Can Saudi host a soccer World Cup in 2030? It may even do so earlier, if…

Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup. A continental rotation means that no neighboring Arab team can host before the other continents had a chance to host the event. Saudi has other ideas

Saudi Arabia has hired Boston Consulting Group to analyze how it could land the quadrennial tournament The first of these ideas is an agreement to share the hosting rights with a European partner in 2030 Saudi offers to have the event done every 2 years, not 4

FIFA world cups are held every 4 years. It’s a long-standing rule and tradition. 

Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup. A continental rotation means that no neighboring Arab team can host before the other continents had a chance to host the event, or 4 continents x4 years, a total of 16 years. That’s another rule.

Saudi Arabia has other plans, including tweaking the rules or completely changing them.

It has eyes set on hosting the 2030 World Cup or even earlier if things go its way.

Saudi and soccer’s biggest prize

Saudi Arabia is competing to reach the top table of global soccer, and at the heart of those efforts is a bid to land the sport’s biggest prize, the World Cup. 

To accomplish its goal, Saudi Arabia has hired Boston Consulting Group to analyze how it could land the quadrennial tournament only eight years after Qatar will become the first country in the Middle East to stage the event.

Several other Western consultants have been asked to help with the project, according to one of the advisers exploring the feasibility of a Saudi bid, and acknowledge that it will require “out of the box thinking”.

Idea 1

The first of these ideas is an agreement to share the hosting rights with a European partner in 2030, so technically not from the same continent as Qatar.   

The strategy builds on existing success. Saudi has enticed leagues in Italy and Spain to sign lucrative contracts to bring domestic cup finals to the country.  

So far, only Britain and a partnership of Portugal and Spain have publicly announced their intentions to enter the bidding process. Italy, another of Saudi Arabia’s soccer allies, is also considering an effort to host the event for the first time since 1990.

Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia have also signaled their intent to launch a combined bid.

Problems with idea 1

Such a cross-continental offer would also require a change of policy from FIFA, which has never staged a tournament on two continents. The 2002 World Cup was shared by the Asian neighbors Japan and South Korea. And the joint United States, Mexico and Canada competition in 2026 will be the first time the World Cup, which by then will have expanded from 32 to 48 teams, is staged in three countries. Different countries who are neighbors, but certainly not on different continents.

Also, for a Saudi bid to be successful in 2030 organizers could once again have to be persuaded to shift the dates of the tournament from their traditional June-July window to November-December to account for hot weather in the Gulf. The global soccer schedule had to be upended to ensure Qatar could stage the tournament safely, and European leagues whose schedules would be upended might be reluctant to repeat the interruption.

Read: Renewed calls to relocate FIFA World Cup 2022 away from Qatar

Read: Qatar facing new allegations of labor abuse practices, as World Cup date nears

Idea 2

Why wait until 2030? Saudi offers to have the event done every 2 years, not 4, and hopes on this are boosted by the country’s close links to FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, who recently starred in a promotional video for the Saudi ministry of sport.

In January, Infantino held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following which FIFA’s membership agreed to a motion offered by Saudi Arabia’s soccer federation to study the possibility of holding the World Cup every two years. 

“It is time to review how the global game is structured and to consider what is best for the future of our sport,” the president of Saudi Arabia’s soccer federation, Yasser al-Misehal, said at the time. “This should include whether the current four-year cycle remains the optimum basis for how football is managed both from a competition and commercial perspective.”

It could make sense for football’s world governing body which suffered a financial hit because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each World Cup earns FIFA up to $6 billion in broadcasting and commercial deals. 

And it is not the first time the idea has been suggested, with former FIFA President Sepp Blatter discussing it in 1999 and 2001.

In 2018, it was raised by South American Football Confederation President Alejandro Domínguez.

In 2019, current FIFA President Gianni Infantino said a Women’s World Cup could be held every two years to aid the development of the sport. The next edition in 2023 will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Problems with idea 2 

Holding the World Cup every two years would put too much pressure on European clubs who are already engaged in a number of competitions and games for club and national teams.

And the global players’ union FIFPRO warns of players facing burnout and injuries from bigger workloads.

When FIFA attempted to launch a 24-team Club World Cup tournament in China this year, European football officials opposed the project, citing among others that Infantino’s lack of transparency about the financial backers.

The inaugural tournament was shelved last year when the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

World Cup 2022 qualification for Saudi 

Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE topped their respective groups to ease into the third phase of Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup

With 14 matches played, Iraq, Oman, China, Vietnam, and Lebanon also made it through after finishing among the five best second-placed teams.

Syria, Japan, South Korea, and Australia had already clinched their spots in the deciding round, from which four countries will advance to next year’s tournament in Qatar.