Saudi Arabia will host the AFC Asia Cup in 2027 as the Asian Football Confederation declared the results of the bidding process formally last week. The Middle Eastern nation was the only candidate left in the fray after India withdrew its bid to host the tournament in line with its Strategic Roadmap for 2047, and the bid by Saudi Arabia was rubber-stamped by the Asian Football Confederation Congress in Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia’s successful bid for the Asia Cup comes ahead of its highly anticipated bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2030, alongside Greece and Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s profile in the sport is on an upward trajectory after the three-time Asia Cup winners stunned the world by defeating Argentina in the FIFA World Cup 2022. The success of the World Cup in Qatar last year despite the many controversies surrounding the tournament has bolstered the confidence of the oil-rich kingdom to make its foray into the global arena.
Asia Cup 2027
The 19th edition of the Asia Cup in 2027 will feature 24 teams from across the continent. Saudi Arabia and India were the only bidders for the tournament, but the All India Football Federation decided to pull its application on 5th December in line with its Strategic Roadmap for 2047, which prioritises the allocation of funds to the development of talent within the country instead of spending money on hosting global events.
As a result, Saudi Arabia became the sole bidder. Saudi Arabia will be hosting the Asia Cup for the first time in the tournament’s history. With the Asia Cup 2023 being held in Qatar, the Middle East will host two back-to-back editions of the tournament. This signifies a landmark shift for the sport in the continent, which has long confined itself to East Asian nations like Japan and South Korea.
Saudi Arabia’s Rise in Sports
The oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom is increasingly becoming a hub for major sporting events. Over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia maintained a relatively low profile in the industry while its neighbours Qatar and UAE cruised ahead to bag hosting rights for global events. But Saudi Arabia now seems keen to become the destination for major sporting events. It already hosts an annual Formula One race in Jeddah, the LIV Tour in golf and has bagged the hosting rights for the 2034 Asian Games. The country has even won an audacious bid to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 – with the wealthy kingdom preparing artificial snow in the middle of a barren desert for the games.
In football, the country has made rapid strides, becoming one of Asia’s dominant teams in recent years. Despite their poor results on the field in a majority of their fixtures, the nation’s football team has managed to win the hearts of fans with their performance on the field. The 2-1 victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina in their opening game of the FIFA World Cup 2022 instantly became a matter of national pride, with the kingdom declaring a holiday to celebrate the occasion.
To further bolster their profile in the sport, Saudi Arabia has even inducted Cristiano Ronaldo into their domestic setup. Al Nassr paid Cristiano Ronaldo a whopping €200 million, the highest in the history of the sport. The hefty sum paid to the legend well past his prime is aimed at boosting the visibility of Saudi Arabia on the global map.
World Cup Bid
Saudi Arabia’s decision to host the Asia Cup in 2027 comes amidst its ambition to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030. It is well-known that the Middle Eastern nation is upset over its smaller neighbour becoming the first Middle Eastern nation to host the World Cup, and is keen to rectify the perceived loss in prestige by hosting a bigger and better tournament.
The bidding process for the FIFA World Cup 2030 was officially launched in the second quarter of 2022. With the FIFA World Cup 2026 set to be held in Canada, Mexico and the United States, it is expected that the tournament will shift to the other side of the Atlantic for the next cycle. A decision will be made at the 74th FIFA Congress in 2024, six years before the tournament.
Several countries have already announced their decision to bid for the tournament, most of them in joint bids with their neighbours. Argentina and Uruguay have submitted a joint bid, with Chile and Paraguay joining the pair later on. Ukraine has announced its decision to co-host the tournament alongside Spain and Portugal – the only bid so far from Europe.
Can Saudi Arabia Succeed?
As a result of Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022, countries from the Asian Football Confederation are banned from participating in the bidding process until 2034. To overcome this hurdle, Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering a joint bid with Egypt and Greece. If the joint bid is successful, it will be the first World Cup to be held across three continents.
The Middle Eastern nation is unlikely to receive the same sort of criticism that Qatar’s bid received, with the last edition of the tournament turning out to be a success despite the heat and a shift in the calendar to mid-season. But FIFA’s credibility will be tested during the bidding process, as the decision to award Qatar the hosting rights to the World Cup was embroiled in controversy.
It remains to be seen if Saudi Arabia will decide to join the cross-confederation bid in 2030, or wait to host the 2034 World Cup all by itself.
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