SPORTS DESK : 25 MAY, 2023, 12:46 AM
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said the body wanted to host another World Cup, in 2030 or 2034, and that “Saudi Arabia is coming in force”.
Asia has staged the World Cup twice: in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and in 2022 in Qatar.
“I think Saudi Arabia is a country capable of organising a similar tournament,” Sheikh Salman, who is from Bahrain, told journalists in Beirut on Monday during a visit to Syria and Lebanon.
“But we have to choose the right time: 2030 or 2034? If our chance of hosting the tournament is better in 2034, we are looking into that, and if our conditions in 2030 are better, why not?”
In 2026, when the World Cup increases to 48 teams, it will split three ways for the first time with United States, Canada and Mexico as hosts.
There are two proposed multi-nation bids for 2030, one from Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and one by Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay, which would return the centenary World Cup to the site of the first final, in Montevideo.
Last September, a spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports, Muhammad Fawzi, said his country was studying a joint bid with Saudi Arabia and Greece.
The Saudi Minister of Sports, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, told AFP in February that his country had not submitted a candidacy file, but added that “anything is possible.”
Sheikh Salman said he wanted to make sure the AFC was united behind any bid and had support from elsewhere.
“We are coordinating with the continental federations and FIFA on the basis that we will host the 2030 or 2034 World Cup in agreement with everyone, so that when the file is presented, we must ensure that it succeeds by at least 90 percent,” he said.
“We have 47 votes, while you need more than 110 votes to host the World Cup. We must have support from other continents. We are coordinating the appropriate time to host this championship.”
Emulating neighbours Qatar and United Emirates, Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in sport as part of the “Vision 2030” strategy to diversify an oil-dependent economy.
The kingdom will host the AFC’s Women’s Cup in 2026, its Asian Cup for the first time in 2027, the multisport Asian Games in 2034, and is scheduled to stage the 2029 Asian Winter Games on artificial snow in the planned giant futuristic city of Neom.
It already hosts a Formula One race in Jeddah, the annual Spanish Super Cup, golf tournaments and boxing title bouts.
Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi club Al Nassr in January and the country’s sovereign wealth fund finances the breakaway LIV golf tour and owns Newcastle United in the English Premier League, although these investments draw accusations that it is “sportswashing” its human rights record. -BSS
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