The 2030 World Cup is to be played on three continents after Morocco, Portugal and Spain won the race to host the 48-team tournament but Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay were gifted the opening three matches.
The decision, which caught even seasoned Fifa watchers by surprise, means that World Cup 2030 will involve teams playing in six countries, each of which will qualify automatically. The World Cup has never been played on more than one continent before and proposals for a tournament to be played over thousands of miles was met with shock by climate groups.
The decision, and the timing, appeared to pave the way for Saudi Arabia to host the World Cup in 2034 and within hours the kingdom unveiled its bid for that tournament. The Saudis had once been expected to lead a bid alongside Greece and Egypt for 2030, only to stand aside earlier this year. Now, with Fifa inviting bids from Asia and Oceania to host in 2034, the Saudi Football Federation said it intends to bid alone.
Fifa settled on the ambitious 2030 proposal at a virtual meeting of its council on Wednesday. It will need to be confirmed in a vote taken by all 211 Fifa members in the final months of next year. “In a divided world, Fifa and football are uniting,” said Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, describing the Morocco, Portugal and Spain bid as “a great message of peace, tolerance and inclusion”.
Fifa is committed to rotating World Cups between confederations and although the Uefa/Caf bid was the favourite for 2030, Conmebol – the South American confederation – has not hosted a World Cup since 2014 and was looking to commemorate the centenary of the first World Cup, held in Uruguay in 1930. Infantino said the first match of the 2030 tournament would be held at the Estádio Centenário in Montevideo, the same venue as the first World Cup.
It is anticipated that Saudi Arabia will not be the only bidders for 2034 with Australia an interested party, perhaps alongside Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. There may also be a proposal from China, which once set its sights on hosting the World Cup by 2030. But the Saudis, who are spending billions on football through its Public Investment Fund, appear to be in pole position.
Yasser al Misehal, the president of the Saudi Football Federation said: “We believe the time is right for Saudi Arabia to host the Fifa World Cup. Our bid is driven by a love for the game and a desire to see it grow in every corner of the world..”
Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and prime minister, described the bid as “a reflection of the country’s progress in all sectors … the kingdom has quickly emerged as a leading hub and an international destination for hosting major events thanks to its rich cultural heritage, economic strength and the ambition of its people.”
The 2030 announcement was met with dismay by climate groups meanwhile. Earlier this year a Swiss regulator ruled that Fifa misled fans over claims that the Qatar World Cup would be a carbon neutral event. Freddie Daley of the New Weather Institute, one of the organisations behind the challenge, said the 2030 plans showed Fifa was “continuing to prioritise the growth of the game ahead of the climate”.