With Saudi Arabia’s Bid in, the 2034 World Cup Will be About More Than Just Soccer

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Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the World Cup aims to gain influence in the west (Image credit: Oil and Gas Middle East)

Saudi Arabia has announced plans to bid for the 2034 World Cup, as stated by the nation’s sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal. Hosting the esteemed tournament would “help achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport” and would signify a milestone in Saudi Arabia’s transformation.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has attracted global football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Júnior, and N’Golo Kanté to its Saudi Pro League, enhancing the country’s image in sports amidst its ongoing transformation. Yet, the nation’s ambitions extend beyond football. The bid comes amid peace talks with Israel, as Saudi Arabian delegates engage in discussions to normalize relations in the region.

Saudi Arabia has progressed noticeably in its quest for Westernization despite enforcing strict laws in the past, such as the 2018-lifted ban preventing women from driving. Announced in 2016, the “Saudi Vision 2030”, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, aims for economic, social, and cultural diversification in the Kingdom. It outlines changes in governing structures and a diminishing commitment to religious doctrines and laws.

Women’s rights have witnessed significant improvements under this vision, with the introduction of physical education classes for both genders in 2017 and permission granted for women to attend sporting events. However, the criticism continues over the Kingdom’s human rights laws and the ‘Kafala System’, a structure tying workers’ legal rights to employers. Though this system has historically facilitated exploitation, recent adjustments in Saudi laws allow employees greater freedom, aligning more closely with international human rights standards.

Saudi Arabia’s influence is growing not just in football but in other sports as well, with the Kingdom hosting events like the Formula One race in Jeddah and various UFC and golf tournaments annually. With substantial investment, Saudi Arabia is bringing competitive sports and events to its populace, as evidenced by the 2017 concert featuring American and Saudi Arabian artists Toby Keith and Rabeh Sager.

While the Kingdom continues its pursuit of ‘westernization’, its ascension as a political and economic powerhouse in recent decades is undeniable. Its affiliation with BRICS nations facilitates trade and strengthens relations with globally significant economic partners. Under the Crown Prince’s leadership, projects aimed at diversifying the economy away from reliance on oil and natural gas are underway, positioning Saudi Arabia as a center for tourism and investment while fostering prosperity in the Kingdom.

Written by Arash Moaref

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