Saudi Arabia is in line to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup after being confirmed as the sole bidder for soccer’s showpiece international tournament.

The Middle Eastern nation was the only country to submit a declaration of interest to FIFA by the governing body’s deadline yesterday (October 31).  

Australia yesterday withdrew from the race to stage the 2034 World Cup, providing Saudi Arabia with a clear run.

In addition, FIFA confirmed the 2030 edition will be played across three continents after Morocco, Portugal, and Spain were awarded hosting rights to the 48-team tournament, with Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay to stage the first three matches.

Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina will get an opening match each to mark 100 years since the first World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930, with the hosts eventually crowned champions. Argentina were runners-up in that tournament, while Paraguay is recognized as the traditional home of the continental governing body Conmebol.

FIFA will now conduct “thorough bidding and evaluation processes for the 2030 and 2034 editions of the FIFA World Cup,” with the hosts to be appointed by the member associations at FIFA congresses expected to take place by the fourth quarter of 2024.

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The governing body stated: “In accordance with these regulations, the FIFA administration will conduct a targeted dialogue with bidders, to ensure complete, comprehensive bids are received and evaluated against the minimum hosting requirements as also previously approved by the FIFA Council.

“This dialogue will focus on the defined priority areas of the event vision and key metrics, infrastructure, services, commercial, sustainability, and human rights. Following this, FIFA will publish its evaluation reports and, should those requirements be met, the member associations gathered at the FIFA congress will appoint the hosts of the respective competitions.”

Some reports suggested Australia had come under pressure from FIFA not to bid for the 2034 World Cup ahead of yesterday’s deadline to ensure Saudi Arabia’s staging of the tournament.

The move came after the Football Association of Indonesia announced it was pulling out of its bid to host the same edition, which left Australia as the only rival to Saudi Arabia.

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson admitted the Saudi bid was tough to compete with and did not foresee a “favorable” outcome in the bidding process. The country is instead targeting hosting rights for the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup and FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup in 2029.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, Johnson said: “Any decision I take for Australian football, I look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and when I went through that [World Cup bidding] process, I realized that we could have a shot, but in the end, the outcome was not going to be favorable to Australia. That was my impression.

“I don't think it was a slam dunk that it would go to Saudi but for us, it's more important that we're able to bring more competitions back to Australia and I felt that if we put all our time, effort, and resources into 2034, then that might damage us on 2026 and 2029, so that's how we weighed up the decision around 2034.”

FIFA had called for nations in Asia and Oceania to bid for the rights to the tournament after announcing that the inter-continental bid from Morocco, Spain, and Portugal had been given the rights to the 2030 edition.

Saudi Arabia then confirmed its bid for the 2034 World Cup last month (October 11).

Within 72 hours of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation declaring its intent to bid for an inaugural World Cup hosting, more than 70 FIFA member associations publicly pledged their support for the kingdom, while the bid has been officially backed by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

Days after pledging their support for the kingdom's bid, the AFC and Confederation of African Football governing bodies both announced Visit Saudi as a commercial partner.

The kingdom has been increasing its influence in the soccer world as of late, with the country set to host the 2023 Club World Cup and the 2027 AFC Asia Cup among others. However, it has been accused of using its financial prowess to launder its alleged human rights abuses, restrictions on women’s rights, and use of the death penalty.

Its latest project has been to bring high-profile players to its domestic league through lucrative contracts and high transfer fees, the latest being Brazilian superstar Neymar.