Saudi Arabia will host the next edition of the Club World Cup final in December.
They were unanimously selected as the venue by the FIFA Council, which is made up of representatives of the seven regional confederations to stage the tournament, which is scheduled to run between December 12th and 22nd.
The news became just days after Al-Hilal became the first Saudi team to reach the final of the competition, beaten in the end 5 – 3 by the European champions Real Madrid.
And, after Morocco reached the semi-finals of the Qatar World Cup, it is the latest shot in the arm for Arab football.
Club World Cup
In its current format, the Club World Cup features the winners of the six Confederations regional championship – for example, the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores – plus a representative from the host nation.
Currently held annually, from 2025 the tournament is set to expand under plans confirmed by FIFA to 32 teams and will be held every four years. FIFA has yet to announce the format of the expanded tournament.
In the recent years the tournament has been dominated by European teams. Since 2007, there has been only one non-European winner, and no team, other than one from Europe or South America, has ever won it.
Ironically, perhaps, the competition is less regarded in Europe than in other parts of the world, primarily because of the primacy of the Champions League. And the fact that the Club World Cup is currently played in the middle of the domestic season does not help its popularity with fans.
All the finals have been played outside Europe. The first, in 2000, was played in Brazil, before it was Yokohama in Japan’s turn to stage it for a number of years. Marrakech, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar have all hosted it, whilst the most recent finals were again held in Morocco, Rabat on hosting duties on this occasion.
This will be the first time that Saudi will have hosted the event.
Saudi’s footballing ambitions
Saudi Arabia has ambitions to become a major force in world football. They recently won the right to stage the 2027 AFC Asia Cup, and they are also reportedly considering a joint bid to stage the 2030 World Cup, along with Greece and Egypt.
In 2021 their sovereign wealth fund became the major backer of the consortium that bought Premier League side Newcastle United, and they have also staged a number of finals, including that of the Spanish Super Cup recently.
Meanwhile, Saudi football has been put on the map since Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Riyadh side Al-Nassr (Al Hilal’s city rivals) at the start of the year. Previously regarded as a footballing backwater, the league is now starting to get far more coverage abroad than has ever previously been the case.
A controversial choice
Nevertheless, Saudi remains a controversial choice because of the country’s human rights record,.
Its determination to stage many international sporting events – high-profile golf, boxing, and tennis events have also been staged in the kingdom, whilst it now has its own Formula One Grand Prix – have led to accusations of “sportswashing.”
Saudi have argued that the accusations are unfair, and that they host international sports for the simple reason that it helps to inspire the country’s youth, both boys and girls.
Meanwhile, organisers of this year’s Women’s World Cup, which is being jointly staged by Australia and New Zealand, are very upset that the Saudi Tourist Board – Visit Saudi – is set to be one of the major sponsors of the tournament, without them being consulted on the matter.
It raises further questions about the ethics and morality of FIFA.
They are already accused – in the court of public opinion at least – of complicity in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. That was in spite of that country’s won poor human rights record, treatment of its migrant labour force, and suppression of the LGBTQ+ community.
Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, has always been unapologetic, though, accusing Western nations of hypocrisy.
Nevertheless, it is hard to escape the conclusion that as far as football’s world governing body is concerned, all that matters is money, no matter where it comes from, and how it is earned.
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