Saudi Sports Washing and World Cup 2030

2030 World Cup hosts
2030 World Cup hosts

Determination, they say, is the key to everything—but money, well, that’s another story. On the heels of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, comes Saudi Arabia’s push for its star turn as host of the quadrennial event—in 2030. The problem is (despite their national team’s defeat of Argentina in Qatar) that they are every bit as repressive a society and as international soccer outsiders as Qatar and as transparent and ham-handed in their approach as Qatar was in theirs…but yet look at what it got Doha.

What has been emerging from Riyadh is a steady stream of stunts of the magnitude and tenor of the Bisht-bestowing-coronation during the alleged 2022 World Cup trophy presentation ceremony in Doha, only this time the acts are being carried out by the wealthier and less inhibited Saudis. Those of the casual Jamal Khashoggi murder, of the President Biden fist-bump followed by the OPEC squeeze and wink to Putin, and the as yet unresolved 9/11 roles.

But never mind all of that. On with the scrubbing.

First, there was the globally controversial LIV Golf tour replete with the $200M Phil Mickelson payoff just to get us used to a Saudi uber presence in global sport. This was followed by the nearly one-quarter of a billion-dollar purchase of diminished icon Cristiano Ronaldo by Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr (a three-year contract that lasts until 2025 or a year after the next World Cup host is awarded) as a way of tilting televised attention toward the Saudi Pro League.

Then came the incredibly curious PSG vs. Al Nassr special-friendly, allegedly pitting Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo in their “last clash.” [Please watch the reactions of Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Sergio Ramos, et. al. before and after the match and while on the bench during it.] And finally, we move to the big prize…CR7 as a Beckamesque shill for the Saudis. Listen to his comments upon being presented to the media and Al Nassr fans.

“This is a great opportunity not only in terms of soccer, but also to try to change the mentality of the world. [WHY?] I’ve chosen this challenge because I want to help this great country [HOW?] and…I’ve come here to…be part of the country’s culture [HOW & WHY?].”

The 2022 Qatar World Cup has opened the doors as wide as they can be with FIFA seemingly having no qualms about keeping any of its Confederation-rotation promises or even attempting to hide what was clearly shown to be its one and only qualification criteria to host the event—the flow of lots of money to its own coffers. So, although the cup should be played in Africa, Europe, or South America, if a protocol is to be followed, Asian money might be the trump card again.

With FIFA’s award of the cup to the Canada-USA-Mexico (CONCACAF-wide) bid for the 2026 World Cup, the new vistas ahead seem to be unlimited and include cross-continental and/or cross-confederation options. The oil-rich Arabs bid is with Egypt (joining the Asian and African continents and confederations and with rumors Greece might also join in to make it a three-fer) and yet they are just one of the many bidders for the Centenary Cup, celebrating 100 years since the inaugural competition took place in 1930 in Uruguay. The Saudis join AFC’s bid from Morocco (who upped their ante with their 2022 cup performance) UEFA’s bid (from Spain, Portugal, and Ukraine, should Russia’s aggression have left it standing), and CONMEBOL’s bid (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay). Here are Yahoo Sports’ and ESPN’s takes.

Papa’s viewpoint is clear on the 2030 World Cup—it should go to UEFA.

The Saudi ploy is just that and one Qatar is enough for a lifetime. The South American bid is mostly an Argentine bid and given FIFA’s largesse with the Copa America gift and the Bisht coronation of Lionel Messi, CONMEBOL has been egregiously and amply rewarded. Morocco’s bid is not bad, they may well be nearly ready for the big-time effort required particularly given the time lag from award to tourney. But their bid simply does not compare to the already-set-for-prime-time bid from UEFA.

If you add the sentimental and reconstructive aspects of playing a few matches in post-war Ukraine (which would be every bit as ready to host, as say, Qatar was in 2010) as a means of returning the ravaged nation to the fold, then there should be no competition. In fact, it would be the first time FIFA would have to show how their vaunted income from the cup actually does accrue to the federations’ and hosts’ benefit as Portugal and Spain should be thinking of recouping a minimal profit while passing along the lion’s share of any income to the needy Ukrainians.

So, from here on in we will be keeping an eye on the goings on of the bids for the 2030 World Cup with an eye on FIFA and another on the bidders.

 

 

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