Even before FIFA President Gianni Infantino confirmed this, they were planning a World Cup in Saudi Arabia. The truth is that they had been doing this for some time.
As you read this, unimaginable sums of money are being spent in a country where money is no object.
Work has begun in Dammam, near the border with Bahrain, on a stadium that will be completed in time for the 2027 Asian Cup and will undoubtedly play a key role 11 years from now.
Significant upgrades are being carried out at two other stadiums in Riyadh and one in Jeddah. More will follow.
A huge, futuristic metro system for Riyadh, which will likely be the tournament’s main hub, is also under construction. The costs? More than £18 billion.
FIFA has confirmed Saudi Arabia as the only candidate country for the 2034 World Cup
Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in stadiums ahead of the 2034 World Cup
Huge infrastructure projects are currently underway in a country where money is no object
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Over at Riyadh airport, an incredible expansion is underway as part of a mega-project that will see the construction of no fewer than six new runways.
They expect 120 million passengers per year by 2030. For comparison: That’s almost twice as much as last year via Heathrow.
In 11 years you can say one thing for sure: Saudi Arabia will be ready.
This will be a glitzy, glamorous event with world-leading facilities and state-of-the-art infrastructure. However, there are questions that need to be answered. It remains to be seen whether fans will be allowed to drink alcohol in stadiums.
In Qatar, infamously, a late U-turn by organizers ensured that this would not be the case. However, alcohol was readily available in many hotels around Doha – albeit at an enormous price.
Some even had sports bars where patrons could drink £10 pints of Heineken while watching World Cup games.
It was a similar story for the cruise ships that were anchored off the Corniche and accommodated many of the players’ families and friends.
But Saudi Arabia is more conservative than its neighbor. In my two weeks there earlier this year at the start of the Pro League season, the only mention of alcohol came from those working the hotel doors, whispering to tourists that they could get their hands on moonshine.
In a last-minute U-turn, Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Qatar has banned alcohol in World Cup stadiums
Saudi Arabia has an established football culture and is expected to see well-attended matches
Locals believe modernization is needed as progress has been made under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Hotel restaurants served cocktails without the kick. There were no bars in any of the places I stayed in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
In the gated compounds where many Westerners live, I was told that alcohol was a little more accessible, but again it was more of a home-made alcohol.
Saudi Arabia has an edge over Qatar in terms of numbers and football culture. Its population of nearly 36 million exceeds Qatar’s population of 2.7 million. This is a football country with a football culture.
It can be assumed that the games will be well attended throughout. The interest is there and the atmosphere on the site can be loud.
There is huge interest in the Premier League. When I heard I was from near Manchester the first question was often: “United or City?”
Most of those I met were friendly and wanted to introduce their country.
There was also a recognition of the need for modernization and a view that great progress had been made under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
However, as in Qatar, there can be issues with how welcoming the experience is for everyone, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.
There will undoubtedly be promises in the lead-up to the tournament – but there will be an understandable anxiety that is unlikely to subside over the next decade.