— Published 2 November 2023

Summer or winter, Saudi Arabia is ready for anything

In other times, the announcement would have had the effect of an earthquake. But it no longer came as a surprise to many. Late on Tuesday October 31, FIFA announced in a press release that it had received just one “expression of interest” in hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup. It came from the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.

Twelve years after Qatar, the Saudi kingdom will in turn host the World Cup. No more suspense. The die has been cast.

FIFA had prepared the ground for the Saudis by explaining, at the time of the announcement that the 2030 edition would be shared between Europe (Spain and Portugal), Africa (Morocco) and South America (Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), that the following one was reserved for Asia and/or Oceania.

The Saudis were the first to speak, announcing their candidacy on October 4 in the wake of FIFA’s decision. For a few days, Indonesia maintained a semblance of uncertainty by declaring itself ready to enter the race, with a project associating Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. However, the Indonesians quickly gave up, eventually supporting the Saudi bid.

Australia, too, kept up the illusion of suspense, only to give up the ghost on Tuesday October 31, the deadline for the announcement of bids. The Australians have now reduced their ambitions to the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Club World Cup in 2029.

With 11 years to go before the event, the host country is already known. A first. But the rest is still very much up in the air. The date, above all, but also the format of the competition.

Logically, the 2034 World Cup should be held in winter. Qatar has paved the way. Saudi Arabia could follow suit without the same controversy.

But on Wednesday November 1, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation kept the doubt alive by assuring us that it would be open to “all possibilities“. Winter, as a priority, but also summer.

There are many new technologies that can be used to cool stadiums or add air-conditioning units, not to mention the fact that many cities in the Kingdom enjoy a very pleasant atmosphere in summer, Saudi FA President Yasser Al-Misehal, who is also a member of the FIFA Council, told AFP. We are ready to face all possibilities.”

Not untrue. Unlike the majority of the country, including the capital Riyadh, where the summer heat can prove stifling, several cities boast a more temperate climate. These include Abha, Taif and Al-Baha. The three cities have shared the hosting of the latest edition of the King Salman Cup, the Arab Club Championship, from July 27 to August 12, 2023. But their stadiums do not currently meet the requirements and standards of a World Cup.

The only certainty is that Saudi Arabia will not call on its neighbors to host the planet in 2034. Yasser Al-Misehal confirmed it this week in Doha, on the sidelines of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) annual awards ceremony: Saudi Arabia will submit a “solo bid” to FIFA. The kingdom would be the sole organizer of a 48-team World Cup. Again, never before seen.