May Include Morocco, Egypt
Saudi Arabia is considering a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup with Italy, which is based over 2,000 miles away from the Gulf country, according to a report.
The bidding process for that edition of the biggest football tournament in the world is in its very early stages, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming in March that the United Kingdom and Ireland want to ‘bring football home in the summer of 2030.
By that year, the World Cup will have expanded to 48 teams and 80 matches, meaning the tournament being held in more than one country is deemed as a more encouraging option for FIFA.
According to The Athletic, Saudi Arabia is teaming up with the US-based Boston Consultancy Group to explore a joint bid with several options, though Italy is the most likely candidate despite the huge distance between the nations.
The report says the Saudis have also been advised on a potential three-way hosting with Morocco and Egypt as part of a ‘MENA’ (the Middle East and North Africa) bid, but the two other countries would need major infrastructure funding to host the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia’s influence on the sporting world has been growing in the past few years after it watched neighbors Qatar win the hosting rights for next year’s World Cup. Critics have, however, repeatedly accused the Saudis of ‘sports washing – spending huge money on hosting sporting events in a bid to boost the country’s reputation despite its poor record on human rights.
Saudi Arabia has spent at least $1.5bn on high-profile international sporting events, according to a report from the human rights organization Grant Liberty.
That includes hosting Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing world title rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr in December 2019 as well as a European Tour golf tournament featuring many of the game’s biggest names – the Saudi International – and the Dakar Rally.
The Saudis also hosted a Formula One Grand Prix this year for the first time, while the country’s sovereign wealth fund – the Public Investment Fund – made a failed £300million takeover bid for Newcastle United last year.
The Premier League failed to approve the bid due to concerns over the links between the fund and the Saudi state, which had the deal gone through would effectively have meant that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the owner of the club.
The buying consortium insisted that the PIF was separate from the state and, as revealed by Sportsmail, Bin Salman was so enraged that he warned the Prime Minister on June 27 last year that Anglo-Saudi relations would be damaged unless the buyout was approved.
Bin Salman approved and probably ordered the murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in October 2018, according to a US intelligence report earlier this year.
Saudi Arabia and Italy have also joined forces in the sporting community in recent years, with the Gulf state hosting the last two Italian Super Cup finals – and will do so again this year.
Italy, which won this month’s Euro 2020 final by beating England in the final, also has the experience of hosting four major tournaments and while none of them have been in the last 30 years, they did host some of this summer’s European Championship matches.