Saudi Arabia taps US consultancy for 2030 World Cup bid

21 June 2021 4 min. read

According to reports in US media, Saudi Arabia looks set to table a bid to host the Men’s FIFA World Cup in 2030.

Saudi Arabia is understood to have hired experts from Boston Consulting Group to help it vie for the hosting rights of the 2030 World Cup. As reported by the New York Times, one of the advisors working on the bid said a number of Western consultants had been asked to help with the project, which BCG is heading. The source stated the bid would require “out of the box thinking”, including a potential agreement to host the tournament with a European partner country.

This would be one way the bid might hope to overcome the strong competition it would face from a number of European countries – including the UK – where officials are already throwing their weight behind bids. At the same time, the fact the Kingdom’s Gulf neighbour Qatar is hosting the next World Cup might count against Saudi Arabia in a lone bid.

Saudi Arabia taps US consultancy for 2030 World Cup bid

As it is the first Mideast World Cup, any Saudi Arabian bid would require soccer’s global governing body, FIFA, which runs the tournament, to change its policy of continental rotation in order to bring the event back to the region – but sharing hosting rights might again serve as a workaround to this.

At present, aside from the UK, the only confirmed bid is from a partnership of Portugal and Spain, while Italy is reportedly mooting a stand-alone bid. In recent years, Serie A and La Liga have fostered strong ties with Saudi Arabia, hosting football matches in the Kingdom in the hope of tapping into the oil-rich economy – so arguably there is potential for further collaboration.

At the same time, the Federation has not been shy about building bridges with the Saudi Royal Family in recent months. FIFA and its President, Gianni Infantino, recently drew criticism from human rights groups after he played a starring role in a promotional video for the Saudi ministry of sport. While this mild criticism does not seem to bother FIFA at present, though, the condemnation will likely be far fiercer if the Saudi bid looks to be gaining traction.

Political football

The human rights record of Saudi Arabia has been a major factor in the scuppering of its footballing ambitions before. Throughout the summer of 2020, the Royal Family was linked to a £300 million takeover of Newcastle United. While the deal ultimately collapsed due to a television broadcasts rights scuffle, a growing uproar regarding the treatment of opposition figures in the Kingdom did a great deal to slow the takeover progress too.

Saudi Arabia’s autocratic government continues to crack down on its critics relentlessly. In 2018 for example it arrested 13 women’s rights activists simply for demanding equality, and the overturn of a ban on women driving in the Kingdom. While the ban has since been overturned, several of the women remain in prison, or under house arrest, according to Amnesty International.

Continued condemnations regarding citizen oppression have not always stopped FIFA from awarding World Cup hosting rights before, however. Throughout the last century, the world’s football governance body has faced continued scrutiny for the processes it deploys to choose World Cup hosts. While the 1934 World Cup held in Fascist Italy has largely faded from mainstream recollection, more recently, 1978 saw Argentina hold the event despite a military dictatorship having seized power two years before, prompting widespread criticism.

Later, FIFA was further pilloried for its decision to hold the 2018 tournament in Russia – in spite of protestations from various communities regarding the Russian government’s geopolitical policies, or continued outcry from the LGBT+ community regarding Russia’s human rights record within its own borders. The coming World Cup in 2022 has similarly riled people since it was awarded to Qatar.

With the event now just a year away, Qatar’s human rights record remains the focus of human rights advocates around the world. Labelled by some as a “slave state,” the preparation for the World Cup has seen migrant labourers subjected to long working days in extreme temperatures, while often being denied the right to leave the country. As a result, a recent investigation by the Guardian found that 6,500 workers have died in Qatar building infrastructure for world football’s 2022 showpiece.

With this being said, FIFA has an appetite for expanding into lucrative markets – regardless of the checkered human rights records the governments presiding over such markets might have. The organisation currently plans to host an expanded Club World Cup in China, where it has also hosted two Women’s World Cup twice since the tournament’s inception – in disregard of the continued criticism of the nation’s government’s persecution of the Muslim minority Uighurs.

According to various reports, Chinese government-run detention centres currently hold an estimated 1 million people from the community. In this context, the idea of Saudi Arabia hosting the 2030 World Cup is not especially far-fetched.