Saudi Arabia is pursuing an ambitious plan to secure the rights to host football’s marquee event, but the effort is facing political and technical hurdles.
Nothing is off the table. No bid to buy one of England’s biggest football clubs. Not a Rich offer for a multimillion-dollar broadcast package. Not even an impossible bid to secure the right to host the 2030 World Cup.
As Saudi Arabia prepares to battle its way to the top table in global football, the heart of those efforts is a bid to reap the sport’s biggest prize. To meet its goal, Saudi Arabia has hired Boston Consulting Group to analyze how it could land in the quadrennial tournament – one of the most-watched events in the sport – after only eight years. Qatar will become the first country in the Middle East to stage the event.
According to one of the consultants who researched the feasibility of the Saudi bid, several other Western consultants have been asked to help with the project, and acknowledge that it will require “thinking out of the box” – including potentially Including an agreement to share with. Hosting rights with a European partner. And despite Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in football, the bid, especially in its current form, is considered a long shot.
A spokesperson for Boston Consulting Group declined to comment, citing company policy.
Sport has increasingly become a central pillar of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program – a strategic effort to wean the country away from oil dependence – but more recently, the country has moved to include its regional rival Qatar as a major power. Behind the scenes there is a concerted effort. Broker in football.
The strategy has met with mixed success. Saudi Arabia has lured leagues in Italy and Spain to sign lucrative contracts to bring domestic cup finals to the country. But efforts to acquire an English Premier League club supported by its Sovereign Wealth Fund and broadcast rights Have been unsuccessful in the Champions League so far.
Despite the consequences, its ambition remains unshakable. Saudi Arabia is determined to be in the ring for all of football’s major assets, and at the center of those efforts is the most recent World Cup.
Human rights groups have long been outspoken about major sporting events in Saudi Arabia, especially since the country was accused of complicity in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But perhaps the biggest difficulty in bringing the World Cup to Saudi Arabia is technical. Since Qatar will stage the first Middle East World Cup next winter, any bid by Saudi Arabia will require soccer’s global governing body, FIFA, to change its policy of continental rotation to bring the tournament back to the region. drives for.
One option under consideration is to tie up with a major European nation hoping to host the World Cup. So far, only the UK and a partnership of Portugal and Spain, a country whose football federation maintains close ties with Saudi Arabia, have publicly announced their intention to enter the bidding process. Italy, one of Saudi Arabia’s football allies, is also considering an attempt to host the event for the first time since 1990.
Such a cross-continental offer would also require a change in policy from FIFA, which has never staged tournaments on two continents. The 2002 World Cup was shared by Asian neighbors Japan and South Korea. And in 2026 the United States, Mexico and Canada competition will be the first ever World Cup, which by then has expanded from 32 to 48 teams, to be staged in three countries.
For the Saudi bid to be successful, organizers may once again have to persuade the tournament to shift the dates of the tournament from their traditional June-July window to November-December to keep warmer weather at bay. Global football schedules had to be changed to ensure Qatar could stage the tournament safely, and European leagues whose schedules would be changed may be reluctant to repeat the interruption.
However, Saudi Arabia’s hopes are heightened by close ties to FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, who recently drew. Criticism of human rights groups After playing a starring role in A promotional video for the Saudi Ministry of Sports.
In January, Infantino held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of Vision 2030. And FIFA membership agreed last month to a proposal put forward by Saudi Arabia’s football federation to study the possibility of holding the World Cup every two years instead of the current one. quadrilateral format.
This change could allow more countries to enter the bidding.
“It is time to review how the global sport is structured and what is best for the future of our sport,” Yasser al-Mishal, president of Saudi Arabia’s football federation, said at the time. “This should include whether the current four-year cycle remains the optimal basis for how football is managed from a competitive and business perspective.”
A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation declined to comment on a possible bid for the World Cup, but also pointed out that the country is fast becoming a destination for high-profile sporting events. In recent years, it has staged major boxing matches, motor races and golf events.
“We are also keen to take the stage in the global sport, turning our passion into on-pitch success, as well as more collaborations with the international football family,” the Saudi Football Federation said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia, despite its vastness, also needed to rebuild bridges with a soccer economy still smarted by the influence of a sophisticated pirate television network based in the country, which stole billions of dollars worth of sports equipment over the years, calling it Remanufactured and sold it to Saudi. customer. FIFA, as well as major competitions such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s Liga, were barred from filing legal claims in Saudi Arabia for opposing piracy.
The network that broadcast BeoutQ, the matches stolen during the territorial dispute with Qatar, has now ceased. And while the conflict with Qatar has largely recovered, beIN, a Qatari-owned sports broadcaster, is banned in Saudi Arabia. This means that football-crazy Saudis will be able to watch this summer’s European football championship, and a parallel event in South America, through illegal broadcasts.
European football’s governing body on Wednesday rejected a nearly $600 million Saudi offer to broadcast the Champions League regionally, preferring to stick with its current partner, BeIN.