Saudi Arabia 2034 FIFA World Cup bid: why did Football Australia withdraw and could games be played in winter?

Australia withdrew its proposal to host the 2034 World Cup

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Saudi Arabia are now unopposed in their bid to host the 2034 World Cup and are on course to become the second Middle East nation in history to stage the historic tournament after Qatar in 2022.

Australia were expected to make a rival bid to stage the World Cup, but withdrew their interest from hosting the competition just hours before FIFA’s deadline on Tuesday 31 October. A statement from Football Australia explained: “We have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition.”

Australia’s governing body added that it is instead focusing on its efforts to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Club World Cup three years later in 2029. Saudi Arabia has hosted several major sporting events since 2018 including football, Formula 1, golf and boxing, while it is also scheduled to host the Club World Cup in December.

Hosting the World Cup is set to be the most significant sporting milestone for the Kingdom to date. But how have fans reacted to the news and is the tournament likely to be staged in winter once again?

How have people reacted to the prospect of Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup?

Yasser Al Misehal, president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation said: “The 2034 World Cup is our invitation to the world to witness Saudi Arabia’s development, experience its culture and become part of its history.”

The Saudis have dived headfirst into a number of huge sporting projects in recent years - in 2019 the state’s wealth fund PIF made the decision to buy Newcastle United, as well as backing the LIV Golf breakaway tour. The Saudi’s have also staged huge fights between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz, as well as the more recent boxing bout between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou.

However, the Kingdom’s mass efforts to expand their profile have not come without controversy and human rights campaigners have previously claimed that sport is being used as a tool to detract from long-standing reputation issues in a process called ‘sportswashing’.

Human Rights Watch told the BBC: “The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights recrord and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham.”

Will the 2034 World Cup be played in winter?

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar attracted widespread controversy over the nation’s human rights record, while the decision to stage the tournament in winter also attracted backlash.

The Premier League was forced into hitting pause on its season in the most recent World Cup and with temperatures in Saudi Arabia regularly hitting highs of 43 degrees celsius in summer, a winter sport would likely be the only possible option for the 2034 edition.

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