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Saudi Arabia sports minister says ‘everyone’s welcome’ at 2034 World Cup

Everyone will be welcome at a Saudi World Cup in 2034, the country’s sports minister has said (Mike Egerton/PA)
Everyone will be welcome at a Saudi World Cup in 2034, the country’s sports minister has said (Mike Egerton/PA)

Saudi Arabia’s sports minister insists everyone will be welcome at the 2034 World Cup despite the country’s criminalisation of same-sex activity.

The Middle East kingdom is all-but certain to host the finals in 11 years’ time after emerging as the sole bidder.

Concerns have been raised at what conditions will be like in Saudi Arabia for individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, but sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal has told the BBC: “Everyone’s welcome in the kingdom.

Teams were threatened with sporting sanctions if their captains wore the OneLove armbands at the Qatar World Cup last year
Teams were threatened with sporting sanctions if their captains wore the OneLove armbands at the Qatar World Cup last year (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Like any other nation we have rules and regulations that everyone should abide by and respect.

“When we come to the UK we respect the rules and regulations, whether we believe in them or not. Through the 85 events that we have had so far, we haven’t had any issues.”

The same issue was prevalent before and during the 2022 finals in Qatar. At that tournament, spectators had rainbow-coloured items confiscated by stadium security guards.

Seven countries’ captains were also threatened with sporting sanctions starting at a yellow card by FIFA if they wore rainbow-coloured ‘OneLove’ armbands at the tournament.

That competition was played in winter due to the oppressive summer heat in the Middle East, causing disruption to many leagues in Europe, but Prince Adbulaziz said it was not certain that would need to be repeated in Saudi Arabia.

“Why not see what the possibilities are to do it in the summer?” he added.

“Whether it is summer or winter it doesn’t matter for us, as long as we make sure that we (deliver) the right atmosphere to host such an event.”

He also said concerns over the treatment of migrant workers involved in building World Cup infrastructure, which dogged Qatar’s hosting for more than a decade in the run-up to the finals, would not be repeated.

“We have 10 years to work on that, we already started in a lot of the venues, so we have a long time to do it in the right time, in the right process,” he said.

“We’re already developing infrastructure… so we are not required to build a lot more to host such an event.”

There has been criticism of the process FIFA followed that left Saudi Arabia as the single bidder in the race for 2034.

FIFA announced in October that its Council had agreed the Portugal, Spain and Morocco bid as the sole candidate to host the 2030 finals and that the first three matches of the tournament should be played in South America to mark the event’s centenary.

On its continental rotation, that meant only bids from countries in the Asian and Oceania confederations would be considered for 2034.

When Australia announced on October 31 that it would not bid, Saudi Arabia was left as the sole candidate.

Prince Abdulaziz said it was “just a theory” that FIFA had engineered the process in Saudi Arabia’s favour and added: “Everyone was clear on the regulations, nobody objected to them during (the process) so I don’t think there was any lack of transparency from FIFA. It was only that we were ready to do it and maybe others weren’t. That’s not our fault.

“As you can see from the announcement of more than 125 federations in support of the Saudi bid… the world also wants us to host 2034.”

The bids for 2030 and 2034 still need to be fully evaluated and then ratified by all member associations at a FIFA Congress.