Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants football to be a reflection of the kingdom's progress in all sectors

Saudi Arabia bets on football and bids to host World Cup 2034

FOTO/AYMAN AREF/NURPHOTO/NURPHOTO VÍA AFP - El equipo de Arabia Saudí antes del partido del Grupo C de la Copa Mundial de la FIFA Qatar 2022 entre Polonia y Arabia Saudí en el Education City Stadium el 26 de noviembre de 2022 en Al Rayyan, Qatar
photo_camera PHOTO/AYMAN AREF/NURPHOTO/NURPHOTO VIA AFP - The Saudi Arabian team before the Group C match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Poland and Saudi Arabia at the Education City Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar

Just hours after FIFA confirmed that the 2030 World Cup will be held in Spain, Portugal and Morocco, Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to host the next World Cup in 2034.

This is a further step in the kingdom's strategy of social and economic modernisation, which is set out in its Vision 2030 strategic plan, and which has already taken its first steps, with the strengthening of the country's football league with the signing of important international football stars.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation is relying on the kingdom's growing experience in organising football events such as the Spanish Super Cup, which has been played there for several seasons, the FIFA Club World Cup 2023 or the AFC Asian Cup 2027.

It is not only football: Saudi Arabia has included sport, for its ability to bring different cultures together, in its Vision 2030 modernisation plan, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Thus, since 2018, the kingdom has organised more than fifty major international sporting events, both men's and women's, in disciplines such as motor racing, tennis, equestrian sports, golf and e-sports.

Saudi Arabia at the World Cups

Saudi Arabia's national team has been present at six world championships since USA-94, including the last one, held in Qatar in 2022, where they managed to beat champions Argentina in their group stage match.

FOTO/AFP/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV - El delantero de Argentina Lionel Messi lucha por el balón con el defensa de Arabia Saudí Ali Al-Bulaihi durante el partido de fútbol del Grupo C de la Copa Mundial Qatar 2022 entre Argentina y Arabia Saudí en el Estadio Lusail en Lusail, al norte de Doha el 22 de noviembre de 2022
PHOTO/AFP/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV - Argentina's forward Lionel Messi fights for the ball with Saudi Arabia's defender Ali Al-Bulaihi during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on November 22, 2022

Saudi Arabia's sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, told Arab News: "Hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading global sporting nation and would be a significant milestone in the transformation of the country. As an emerging and welcoming nation for all sports, we believe that hosting the FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.

For his part, Yasser Al-Misehal, President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: "We are embracing Saudi Arabia's enthusiasm for innovation and growth as we bid for this flagship tournament; the Kingdom's transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid. We are committed to hosting an exceptional event that celebrates the game, captivates players and fans, and inspires future generations.

Unlike the 2030 World Cup, whose matches will be spread across several venues (Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), Saudi Arabia's bid proposes that all matches will be played in the Kingdom, in order to streamline travel and optimise the scheduling.

It should be borne in mind that, from 2026, the final stages of the world football championships will be extended to 48 teams, which increases the number of matches and, therefore, the number of fans present, complicating the logistics.

Saudi Pro League

As part of its project to promote sport in general and football in particular, Saudi Arabia wants its league, the Saudi Pro League, to become an attraction for fans all over the world. At the moment, it is one of the strongest leagues in Asia, boasts the most talented players in the national game and, for the past few seasons, has been attracting international stars from more than 45 countries.

FOTO/SAUDI ARAB LEAGUE - Imagen de los capitanes de los equipos Al-nassr y Al taawon con el equipo arbitral, antes del partido
PHOTO/SAUDI ARAB LEAGUE - Picture of the captains of the teams Al-nassr and Al taawon with the refereeing team, before the match

The Saudi government is betting big on football: it has increased its investment in youth football by 160%, opening up to 18 regional training centres; the number of registered coaches has increased from 750 in 2018 to more than 5,500; and the number of players has grown by 56% for men's football and 86% for women's football.

Women's football is receiving a special boost, with the creation, in 2019, of senior and U-17 national teams, two professional leagues with 38 clubs and a women's school league with more than 48,000 players. The number of female coaches has increased by 800% in the last two years.

All this promotion of grassroots football is already bearing its first fruits, such as the triumph in the men's U-23 Asian Cup.