Saudi Arabia’s 2034 World Cup bid boosted by Indonesia after Australia co-host talks

AP , Wednesday 18 Oct 2023

One week after revealing talks with Australia about bidding to co-host the 2034 World Cup, Indonesian soccer leader Erick Thohir said Wednesday his federation now supports Saudi Arabia.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, right, walks with Minister for State Owned Enterprises Erick Thohir upon arrival for a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP)

Thohir’s change of plan was detailed in a statement on the Indonesian soccer federation website hours before an online meeting of the Asian Football Confederation, whose 47 members include Australia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

During the meeting, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged AFC members to “be united for the 2034 World Cup.”

Infantino has long been a close ally of Saudi soccer and the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and FIFA’s surprise decision two weeks ago to fast-track bidding for the 2034 men’s tournament was seen as favorable for them.

Only members of the AFC and Oceania’s soccer body — New Zealand and scattered Pacific islands – can bid for the 2034 tournament, FIFA said this month, after accepting a single 2030 co-host bid teaming Europe, Africa and South America across six nations.

FIFA give federations in Asia and Oceania an Oct. 31 deadline to show interest and just one month more to submit a detailed bidding agreement with government support.

Saudi Arabia confirmed its intention almost immediately after FIFA opened the contest on Oct. 4. Within minutes, the AFC’s president, Bahraini royal family member Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, said the Saudis had its united backing.

Speculation about an Australia-Indonesia plan, possibly including Malaysia and Singapore, suggested there was not the Asian unity Sheikh Salman had suggested.

Indonesia’s announcement Wednesday isolated Australia if it wants to make a 2034 bid to follow its successful co-hosting of the 2023 Women’s World Cup with New Zealand.

“There is enough division already all over the world. We have occasions to send messages of unity,” Infantino said Wednesday in a video message from Zurich to AFC members.

Infantino reminded them of his message at a soccer officials’ meeting this month in Tashkent, Uzbekistan — “to be united in Asia, to be united for the 2034 World Cup.”

FIFA wants to confirm the 2030 and 2034 World Cup hosts late next year at separate meetings of its 211-member federations.

The Europe-led bid of Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and the inaugural 1930 host Uruguay is the consensus choice for 2030. The South Americans are set to get just one game each of the 104-game slate, yet that removes their soccer body from the 2034 picture as FIFA looks to rotate hosting between continents.

North and Central American soccer body CONCACAF gets its turn in 2026 when the United States, Canada and Mexico host the first 48-team, 104-game edition.

Thohir, an Indonesian government minister who has close ties to Infantino, said Wednesday Indonesia aims to host when Asia next gets its turn after 2034. That could be in 2046.

Indonesia hosts the men’s Under-17 World Cup for FIFA next month after being stripped in March of the Under-20 version because the Muslim-majority nation refused to stage the games of Israel, which had qualified.

The Australian soccer federation also has shown interest in hosting the 32-team Club World Cup for FIFA in 2029.

Saudi Arabia will host the last annual seven-team Club World Cup for FIFA in December. The club tournament is relaunched as a four-yearly, 32-team tournament in June 2025 in the United States.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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