Friday, December 1, 2023

This is how FIFA has given Saudi Arabia a World Cup without almost anyone noticing

This Tuesday the deadline for submitting candidatures to organize the event closed. World Cup 2034 of men’s football and, to no one’s surprise, Saudi Arabia was the only country that submitted the so-called “declaration of interest” necessary to participate in the selection process. In other words, the Saudi dictatorship will host the World Cup immediately after the one that will be held in Spain… Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Even Gianni Infantino confirmed the good Saudi news on his Instagram account, appealing to the “message of unity and inclusion” that the designation implies.

Thus, without excessive noise or room for controversy, a new episode of whitewashing of world sport towards dictatorial regimes. It remains that, in effect, the dictatorship meets all the formal requirements, but that is mere bureaucracy, a procedure. Saudi Arabia, as happened before Qatar (World Cup 2022) or with China (Beijing Olympics 2008), is normalized as a valid agent with organizer of large international tournaments. Human rights? Who cares? To those who occupy the big offices of world sport it is clear that not.

FIFA will defend itself from any criticism that there may be (which there will be) by clinging to the fact that Saudi Arabia is just another member federation and that it has enjoyed the same opportunities as the rest. And he will remain silent that if the 2034 World Cup is going to end there it is because the procedures that FIFA itself has been creating have left, in practice, no other possibility. Small decisions, one after another, with no apparent connection, that have made it impossible for the outcome to be different.

The appointment process

Let’s see. In 2007, FIFA applied a criterion of rotation of editions, so that the same continent cannot host two World Cups within a period of eight years. This rule meant that the countries of North and Central America could not aspire to the 2034 edition, given that The US, Canada and Mexico will act as hosts in 2026.

With this rule on the table, Saudi Arabia was forced to cancel its aspirations for 2030, given that its neighbor Qatar had hosted the 2022 World Cup. The 2030 World Cup, in short, was only open to countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Oceania. But Oceania, in practice, does not count, since Australia is a member of the Asian confederation for three decades and the rest of the oceanic nations lack the capacity to organize a World Cup on their own.

Then came FIFA’s masterstroke. A month ago, the organization that presides Gianni Infantino announced that the 2030 World Cup would be held in Spain, Portugal and Moroccowith opening matches in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. That is, three different continents would host that edition, automatically eliminating the three from the race by 2034.

Conmebol’s strange posture

In this sense, the conformity of Conmebol (the South American confederation) to this edition is striking, given that settles for three opening matches in exchange for not organizing a World Cup until at least 2038when 24 years will have passed since Brazil 2014. Well, strictly speaking, they could not organize it until 2042, but with the current rules only North and Central America and Oceania could host the 2038 edition and none of the two (excluding the USA, Canada and Mexico, hosts in 2026) appear to have the ability to do so.

FIFA’s move is, apparently, with the cards face up, since The organization itself invited the countries of Asia and Oceania to present their candidacies for the 2034 World Cup. And although Oceania, as it is written, is de facto out of the equation, in the Asian confederation there are a good number of countries with the capacity to organize a World Cup, either individually or in alliance with others. : Japan, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea, China…

The small nuance, which turns the nod to Saudi Arabia into a true golden runway, is the deadline given by FIFA for the presentation of candidatures. Without prior notice, the body that governs world football decided to combine the 2030 and 2034 processes, forcing anyone who wanted to host the second of them to complete all the requirements before this Tuesday, October 31. A period of days for a World Cup that will be held in 11 years.

Indonesia’s sudden turn

Saudi Arabia, which had advanced work towards 2030 (he resigned in June, did he know anything?), had everything ready. Australia was another country with the ambition of competing for the 2034 event and tried to move with the obligatory speed imposed to put together another candidacy. He tried to ally with Indonesia, which viewed the project favorably, but the Asian country resigned a day before its Foreign Minister met in Riyadh with his Saudi counterpart, also promising his country’s support for that candidacy. It seems too much of a coincidence.

This Tuesday morning, Australia officially announced that it was giving up its attempt to host the 2034 World Cup, positioning itself to host the second edition in 2029. FIFA Club World Cup, whose format with 32 teams should debut in 2025 in the US. In the afternoon, FIFA confirmed that only the Saudi dictatorship had sent the “declaration of intent.”

The consequence of all this is that, de facto, Saudi Arabia is the unofficial host of the 2034 World Cup as of this Wednesday. And it is without FIFA having to carry out any election process that would facilitate international pressure for the Saudi candidacy to decline as those he suffered in the Qatar 2022 selection process, now investigated for corruption.

Everything tied and well tied and with the necessary appearance of neatness that is not going to put the designation to shame. Without almost anyone who does not look at it in detail realizing that FIFA has once again sold itself to the torrent of millionaires from a country that tramples on Human Rights. Let the ball roll. That seems to justify everything.


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