Saudi Arabia could be in the running to host the 2035 World Cup. That’s the hope of Monika Staab — the technical director of the Saudi Arabia women’s national team.
“I told [the sport’s administrators] it takes time to go to the World Cup. I know they want to host the men’s World Cup — why not host the Women’s World Cup in 2035?” Staab told the Leaders Week conference last week.
Saudi Arabia’s growing presence in global sports
The Gulf state’s ambitions within football and sport have been well documented in the past year. The PIF (Public Investment Fund) now own Newcastle United, and a swathe of high-profile players moved to the male Saudi Pro League. They also seem to have bought the entire sport of golf.
More recently, however, several players have moved to the Saudi Women’s Premier League, the eight-team top flight formed in 2020. Nigerian international Ashley Plumptre joined Al-Ittihad from Leicester City, Leighanne Robe joined from Liverpool and former FC Zürich defender, Erica Cunningham completed the move to Eastern Flames.
The national team played their first game in February 2022, beating Seychelles 2-0.
No World Cup bid is without competition
Should the Saudis make an official bid to host in 2035, it could provide competition for an English bid.
The FA are considering a bid to host in 2031. But the English governing body may have to change tact should the joint bid from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands come to fruition for the 2027 edition owing to FIFA’s policy of rotating between continents.Embed from Getty Images
Controversy will surround any Saudi bid
Any bid from Saudi Arabia would be incredibly controversial.
The country still heavily restricts women’s rights. Until 2017, they weren’t allowed to set foot inside sports stadiums — let alone play in them. Male guardianship laws have slightly relaxed — meaning women now have some freedoms, such as being able to drive and travel overseas without the permission of a male relative. How liberal of them…Embed from Getty Images
There would also be concerns about hosting the biggest women’s sporting event on the planet in a country where the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are non-existent. Same-sex activity is illegal and is possibly punishable by death.
But FIFA appear intent on milking the Saudi cash cow for all it’s worth. The 2034 men’s World Cup will almost certainly be hosted there, and there were plans for the Saudi tourist board to be a main sponsor of the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Those plans were eventually scrapped amid a backlash from players, sponsors and the co-hosts — both of whom came out and said they hadn’t been consulted about any sort of deal.
But what FIFA want, FIFA usually seem to get, and the biggest clash of the 2035 World Cup could well be between the open, inclusive and liberal society that women’s football is and that of the Saudi culture.