Indonesia switches sides, backs Saudia Arabia’s bid to host 2034 FIFA World Cup
Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 FIFA Men’s World Cup took a significant step forward, overcoming one of its major obstacles in its quest to stage the iconic tournament.
Just a week after exploring the possibility of co-hosting the 2034 World Cup with Australia, the head of Indonesian football, Erick Thohir, announced a shift in allegiance, throwing Indonesia’s support behind Saudi Arabia. This change of plan was made official through a statement on the Indonesian football federation’s (PSSI) website, shortly before an online gathering of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a group comprising 47 member countries, including Australia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
During the AFC meeting, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged the member nations to unite in support of Saudi Arabia’s bid for the 2034 World Cup. This appeal came as no surprise, as Infantino has a longstanding association with Saudi football and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
FIFA’s sudden decision to expedite the bidding process for the 2034 men’s tournament two weeks earlier was widely perceived as favouring Saudi Arabia’s candidacy.
In response to Infantino’s call, AFC members acted swiftly, with the Japan Federation proposing unanimous backing for Saudi Arabia’s bid, with support from Uzbekistan, Lebanon and India. Japanese federation official Tsuneyasu Miyamoto highlighted the need for Asian unity and praised Saudi Arabia for its rich football history, tremendous passion and its promising vision for the 2034 World Cup.
Australian officials did not participate in the online discussions.
Yasser al Misehal, the president of the Saudi football federation, expressed confidence in Asian unity. He highlighted the overwhelming support received from around the world and emphasised the immense responsibility placed on Saudi Arabia to deliver a successful bid. Al Misehal is a member of the FIFA Council and a likely candidate for the AFC presidency in 2027, coinciding with Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the men’s Asian Cup after an extensive stadium construction program.
FIFA, led by President Infantino, had previously decreed that only AFC and Oceania’s soccer body members, including New Zealand and some Pacific islands, could bid for the 2034 tournament. FIFA accepted only one bid for the 2030 World Cup, featuring six nations from Europe, Africa and South America as co-hosts.
FIFA has set an October 31 deadline for interested federations in Asia and Oceania to express their intentions, with an additional month for the submission of a detailed bidding agreement with government backing.
Saudi Arabia promptly confirmed its intention to bid for the 2034 World Cup when the bidding process opened on October 4. Almost immediately, AFC’s president, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, declared the unanimous backing of Saudi Arabia.
The possibility of an Australia-Indonesia plan, potentially involving Malaysia and Singapore, had raised concerns about Asian unity. However, Indonesia’s announcement on Wednesday left Australia isolated in its pursuit of a 2034 bid, following its successful co-hosting of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand.
For the 2030 tournament, a consensus choice has emerged, led by Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, the host of the inaugural 1930 World Cup. As a result, South America is set to receive only three fixtures in the 104-game tournament, which precludes the continent from hosting the 2034 event as FIFA seeks to rotate host locations across continents.
The CONCACAF region, comprising North and Central American soccer bodies, will have its turn in 2026, with the United States, Canada and Mexico co-hosting the tournament, featuring 48 teams and 104 games.
Thohir, a prominent Indonesian government minister with close ties to President Infantino, confirmed his country’s ambition to host the World Cup when Asia’s next hosting turn arrives after 2034, potentially in 2046.
Indonesia is set to host the FIFA Men’s Under-17 World Cup next month, after being stripped of hosting rights for the Under-20 version due to its refusal of staging games involving Israel. The Australian football federation has also shown interest in hosting the 32-team Club World Cup for FIFA in 2029, with the promise of this tournament being a potential incentive for extending the October 31 deadline.
Saudi Arabia, which will host the final annual seven-team Club World Cup in December, plans to relaunch the club tournament as a 32-team event held every four years starting in June 2025 in the United States.
Winning the hosting rights for the World Cup could significantly accelerate Saudi Arabia’s football development project, funded by its oil wealth. This initiative has already led to the acquisition of the Premier League club Newcastle and the takeover and financial support of four renowned domestic clubs, along with the sponsorship of international competitions by the Visit Saudi tourism board. This expansion is happening despite ongoing concerns about human rights in the kingdom and the reputational challenges faced by the crown prince following the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.