One option under consideration is to join with a major European nation also hoping to host the World Cup. So far, only Britain and a partnership of Portugal and Spain, a country whose soccer federation has forged close ties to Saudi Arabia, have publicly announced their intentions to enter the bidding process. Italy, another of Saudi Arabia’s soccer allies, is also considering an effort to host the event for the first time since 1990.
Such a cross-continental offer would also require a change of policy from FIFA, which has never staged a tournament on two continents. The 2002 World Cup was shared by the Asian neighbors Japan and South Korea. And the joint United States, Mexico and Canada competition in 2026 will be the first time the World Cup, which by then will have expanded from 32 to 48 teams, is staged in three countries.
For a Saudi bid to be successful, organizers could once again have to be persuaded to shift the dates of the tournament from their traditional June-July window to November-December to account for hot weather in the Gulf. The global soccer schedule had to be upended to ensure Qatar could stage the tournament safely, and European leagues whose schedules would be upended might be reluctant to repeat the interruption.
Saudi Arabian hopes, though, are boosted by its close links to FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, who recently drew criticism from human rights groups after playing a starring role in a promotional video for the Saudi ministry of sport.
In January, Infantino held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of Vision 2030. And FIFA’s membership agreed last month to a motion offered by Saudi Arabia’s soccer federation to study the possibility of holding the World Cup every two years instead of its current quadrennial format.
That change could allow even more countries to enter the bidding.
“It is time to review how the global game is structured and to consider what is best for the future of our sport,” the president of Saudi Arabia’s soccer federation, Yasser al-Misehal, said at the time. “This should include whether the current four-year cycle remains the optimum basis for how football is managed both from a competition and commercial perspective.”
A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian soccer federation declined to comment on a possible World Cup bid, but did point out that the country was fast becoming a destination for high-profile sporting events. In recent years, it has staged major boxing matches, motor races and golf events.