World Cup trophy
World Cup trophy

Saudi Arabia is set to host the men’s 2034 World Cup after Australia decided against bidding to stage the tournament.

Football Australia confirmed its decision only hours before Fifa’s deadline for declarations of interest on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is the only other nation to bid.

“We have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” read a statement from Football Australia.

The 2026 World Cup will take place in the US, Mexico and Canada.

Morocco, Portugal and Spain will host the 2030 tournament, with matches also in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Fifa had said the 2034 World Cup would be held in Asia or Oceania, and an Australian bid was regarded as the only potential challenger to Saudi Arabia, which announced its intention to bid shortly after Fifa’s decision.

Despite receiving support from the Asian Football Confederation, Saudi Arabia would likely be viewed as a controversial host.

It has been criticised for its human rights violations – 81 men were executed on one day last year – women’s rights abuses, the criminalisation of homosexuality, the restriction of free speech and the war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s international standing was severely damaged by the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist who was a prominent critic of the government.

Human rights campaigners say sport is being used by the Saudi government to detract from long-standing reputation issues, a process known as ‘sportswashing’.

Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup drew criticism because of its stance on same-sex relationships, its human rights record and its treatment of migrant workers.

Like last year’s tournament, the 2034 edition would almost certainly be held in the winter because of extreme heat in the summer.

Saudi Arabia has hosted several major sporting events since 2018, involving football, Formula 1, golf and boxing.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, said the World Cup bid “constitutes an important and natural step in our journey as a country passionate about football”.

Last month Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing.”