Saudi Arabia prepares for World Cup 2034

23 November 2023

This package also includes:

> World Cup 2034 shows Saudi goals can be achieved
> The frontrunners for the Saudi World Cup 2034 stadiums
> Read the December 2023 edition of MEED Business Review


It happened so fast. One month after saying it would bid to host football’s 2034 Fifa World Cup, Saudi Arabia was effectively confirmed as the host after the only other potential bidder for the tournament withdrew from the race. 

Fifa had invited member associations from the Asian Football Confederation and Oceania Football Confederation to bid for the 2034 event by the end of October. 

Saudi Arabia formally announced in early October that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation will lead its bid to host the tournament. Then on 31 October, which was the deadline for submitting bids, Football Australia issued a statement saying that the country will not bid for the 2034 tournament. 

“We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the Fifa World Cup and – having taken all factors into consideration – we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” said the body that governs the sport in Australia.

Bidding process

The official selection of Saudi Arabia as the 2034 host is expected to be confirmed in late 2024.

“The Fifa administration will conduct thorough bidding and evaluation processes for the 2030 and 2034 editions of the Fifa World Cup, with the hosts to be appointed by Fifa Congresses expected to take place by the fourth quarter of 2024,” Fifa said in its statement on 31 October, which confirmed Saudi Arabia as the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup. 

During the bidding process, “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,” the statement continued. 

“This dialogue will focus on the defined priority areas of the event vision and key metrics, infrastructure, services, commercial and sustainability and human rights.”

The bid must include a minimum of 14 stadiums, of which at least four should be existing structures

Transformative effect

Experience from previous World Cups, including the most recent in Qatar in 2022, has shown how transformative the tournament can be for a country. “There is obviously an event at a particular point in time, but we have learnt not to look at it as an event itself, because there are all these activities that happen before and beyond the event,” says Kourosh Kayvani, partner at consultancy HKA.

“It is really about a programme of change in the country.

“This includes social change, economic change, and all of these things are ultimately achieved through the process of working towards the event, delivering it and then legacy.”

Building infrastructure

The most prominent part of the infrastructure is the stadiums. 

The bid must include a minimum of 14 all-seater stadiums, of which at least four should be existing structures. The capacity must be at least 80,000 seats for the opening and final matches, and for the semi-finals there must be at least 60,000 seats. For all other matches, at least 40,000 seats are needed. 

Saudi Arabia is already upgrading and building stadiums as part of its preparations for hosting the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. In June, the Sports Ministry invited construction firms to submit prequalification documents for contracts to build sports stadiums as part of its SR10.1bn ($2.7bn) capital projects programme. 

The schemes are split into four elements. The largest of these, and the most immediate, is the construction of a new stadium to the north of Riyadh and the upgrade of five existing football stadiums. 

The projects will increase the capacity of the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh to 92,000 seats, expand the seating capacity of Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium to 45,000, increase the capacity of Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam to 30,000 seats and raise the seating capacity of Prince Saud bin Jalawi Stadium in Al-Khair to 45,000. New Riyadh Stadium, a sustainable, 45,000-seater venue in the north of Riyadh, will also be constructed.

Other football stadium projects are also progressing. In October, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation awarded an early works contract to the local Al-Osais Contracting for the construction of its new stadium in Dammam. It will have the capacity to accommodate 40,000 spectators. 

The new stadium will be built in the Dammam Sports City area, where the facilities of the Al-Ettifaq Football and Al-Nahda Club teams are based.

Consultants have also been invited by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) to bid for a contract to provide project and asset management services for the operation and upgrade of its King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on the outskirts of Jeddah. It is the home ground of football team Al-Ittihad Saudi Club, which won its ninth championship in the 2022-23 season.

The 62,000-seater stadium was built by a joint venture of Belgium’s Six Construct and the local Al-Muhaidib Trading & Contracting. The team was awarded the estimated SR2bn ($533m) contract in 2011. Saudi Aramco developed the stadium on behalf of the government. 

In July 2022, Jeddah Central Development Company signed design and engineering contracts for the stadium at the Jeddah Central project. The design contract was awarded to GMP International and the engineering contract was awarded to Khatib & Alami.

A stadium built 300 metres above the ground between the two buildings that form part of The Line at Neom is also planned and has featured in Neom’s marketing campaigns.

As well as stadiums, Saudi Arabia will also have to invest in supporting infrastructure such as transportation networks and hotels. For the Qatar World Cup, projects including the Doha Metro network and a raft of hotel and resort developments were completed ahead of the tournament. 

“It was the first time that the World Cup was held in one city,” says Alexey Milovanov, who oversaw the construction of eight stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 tournament and, before that, was involved in building stadiums for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.

Cities across the kingdom will host the Saudi World Cup, which will make it more like the 2014 Brazil World Cup and the 2018 Russia World Cup, which were hosted by countries with large land areas and multiple centres of population. 

“For these World Cups you have to think about how to move people from one city to another, what the accommodation is like in each city, and then there are all the security requirements,” Milovanov says.

Saudi Arabia will also have to invest in supporting infrastructure such as transportation networks and hotels

Football investments

Becoming the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup is the latest milestone in Saudi Arabia’s concerted strategy to become a leading force in the growing business of global football. Speaking at the Future Investment Forum in Riyadh in October, Fifa president Gianni Infantino described the sport as a $200bn-a-year economy. 

The first clear sign of Riyadh’s football-focused strategy came in October 2021 when a consortium led by the PIF completed the full acquisition of UK football club Newcastle United from St James Holdings. 

The investment group, which also includes PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media, finalised the long-awaited deal after having secured approval from the English Premier League. The deal was estimated to be worth $415m.

Saudi football vision goes global

In November 2022, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud attended the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar. He sat with and embraced Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during the event, a move that emphasised the strengthening ties between the two nations. 

A few days later, the Saudi national team stunned the world when it beat event tournament winner Argentina 2-1 during a group stage match.

Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo joined the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr in December 2022. The club reportedly paid over $200m to sign the player. Within days, Al-Nassr’s Instagram account had grown from 800,000 followers to over 6 million.

In June 2023, PIF moved to boost the popularity of the kingdom’s domestic league by investing in four Saudi football clubs – Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal. They were converted into companies, predominantly owned by PIF and complemented by non-profit foundations. 

The move was followed by a summer of intense football transfer activity, which included Brazilian star Neymar signing for Al-Hilal.

Morocco plans six stadium projects for 2030 World Cup

More tournaments

The Middle East has more to cheer about than just a Saudi World Cup. Morocco, as part of a joint bid with Spain and Portugal, has been confirmed as the sole bidder to host the 2030 World Cup. 

Fifa has confirmed that the bid is the sole candidate for 2030, and to celebrate 100 years since the first World Cup in 1930, which was held in Uruguay, three matches of the 2030 tournament will be hosted in South America.

For football fans in the region who cannot wait that long, Saudi Arabia will host the 20th Fifa Club World Cup in December – a tournament contested by the best club teams from each continent.

Main image: Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo joined the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr in December 2022
Colin Foreman
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