Saudi Arabia is looking into the possibility of hosting the 2034 men’s World Cup during the traditional months of June-July despite daily temperatures above 100 degrees F (38 C), according to the desert kingdom’s sports minister.
In a rare interview since FIFA fast-tracked the 2034 tournament toward Saudi Arabia in October, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal told British broadcaster BBC that either a summer or winter tournament was possible.
“Definitely we are studying both options to see what is the best option to host the World Cup,” the sports minister said in an interview in Jeddah published Friday.
The assumption since the Saudi bid became the only 2034 candidate several weeks ago has been that the 48-team tournament will be played in November and December just as the 2022 tournament was in Qatar.
In June, the average high temperatures are more than 104 F (40 C) in Riyadh and 100 F (38 C) in Jeddah by the Red Sea. In November, the averages are about 90 F (32 C).
“Why not see what the possibilities are to do it in the summer?” Prince Abdulaziz said.
FIFA declined comment on details of the 2034 tournament, with hosting rights not due to be officially awarded until late next year.
The Qatar World Cup was the first to be played in November-December, forcing the top European leagues to stop play for at least six weeks.
Qatar’s original bid for the tournament had pledged to host it in June-July with promises of developing air-cooling technology in stadiums to protect the health of players. Still, there were doubts about health implications for fans and tournament workers.
However, FIFA approved the inevitable switch more than four years later in March 2015 to move the tournament dates over objections from European clubs, leagues and the Global Players’ Union. Proposals for a tournament in January or April-May were rejected.
“Whether it is summer or winter, it doesn’t matter for us,” Prince Abdulaziz said in the interview, “as long as we make sure that we (deliver) the right atmosphere to host such an event.” Temperatures in excess of 100 F (38 C) will likely be routine in some of the 16 host cities for the 2026 World Cup being played from mid-June to mid-July across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Some venues, including the home stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, are air-conditioned with retractable roofs.
The Saudi sports minister also pushed back on a suggestion that hosting rights for the 2034 tournament have been steered toward the oil-rich kingdom by FIFA, whose president Gianni Infantino has built close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
There was no formal bid process publicly in place for the 2034 World Cup before FIFA’s surprise announcement on October 4. By picking a Europe-Africa-South America project as the only candidate to host the 2030 tournament, FIFA was able to open the 2034 contest years ahead of schedule and allow only applications from member federations in Asia and Oceania.
Minutes after the FIFA announcement, the Saudi football federation confirmed its interest. The Asian Football Confederation quickly followed with its endorsement, seeming to blindside its members in Australia and Indonesia which then declined to meet an October 31 deadline to enter.
“Everyone was clear on the regulations,” Prince Abdulaziz said. “Nobody objected to them during (the process) so I don’t think there was any lack of transparency from FIFA.” While Saudi Arabia getting the 2034 tournament is now seen as a formality across global soccer, the final decision must be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the 211 FIFA member federations late next year.
Saudi Arabia was already building some stadiums to host the 2027 Asian Cup, and FIFA has asked for 14 stadiums to host the World Cup.
Prince Abdulaziz said issues over migrant workers and labour rights which created intense scrutiny on Qatar for much of its 12-year preparation to host are “not going to be repeated.” “We have 10 years to work on that, we already started in a lot of the venues, so we have a long time to do it in the right time, in the right process,” he said.
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