In 2030, the chances are growing that the World Cup will be staged by a rather peculiar trio: Saudi Arabia, with Greece and Egypt as associate hosts. And when you see the resources the Saudis are dedicating to it, they can only put the odds on their side. And they have two big irons in the fire: the support of the two best players of the last 20 years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Or these two will have to turn around when the time comes because they will have to go against their own country’s candidacy.
Their opponents in the tender process are two major candidates, on the one hand Spain and Portugal representing the European continent, and on the other a surprising third partner, Ukraine. This is obviously a masterstroke by the Iberian pair as it will be difficult for many FIFA countries to vote against them.
On the other side we find Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay. The latter has great symbolic value since Uruguay hosted the first World Cup in 1930.
The immeasurable budgets
But what about a fund that spent more than two billion dollars on sports sponsorships in 2022 alone? The Saudis, along with the immeasurable public investment fund – the government fund of the Saudi royal family – recently bought Newcastle United, who will pose a major threat to UAE-owned Manchester City and PSG Qatar , owned by the United Arab Emirates.
Ronaldo is the number one weapon
But of course it doesn’t end there. Saudi football club Al Nassr recently signed Ronaldo.
This is already the delight of young Saudis, who really love football, unlike their neighbors in Qatar. It will bring some sparkle to the league, but don’t expect the league to close the gap to the European leagues. Even the Chinese and the Americans tried to improve themselves by signing Pele or Beckham, among others, but they never succeeded. For this, Ronaldo is overwhelmed.
However, the most important role Ronaldo will play will be as a weapon to win the World Cup.
Messi is weapon number two
For this, Ronaldo has an extraordinarily good partner – Lionel Messi, who is already in the pay of the Saudi kingdom as ambassador of the country’s tourist office. On the one hand, the Saudis want to open up their country more to tourists under the Vision 2030 program, which aims to make the country less dependent on its oil revenues. On the other hand, they also want to bring the Cup back, and Messi can certainly help them.
Their moral dilemma
We therefore find ourselves in the particular situation where the two football icons will have to betray their country at the end of their careers – it is difficult to say otherwise – because both will probably have no choice but to show their support for the Saudi bid for the World Cup. This offer is therefore diametrically opposed to that of Argentina and Portugal. Everything is for sale, including the World Cup, as demonstrated by the two previous editions in Qatar and Russia.
The real decision makers
Also, in the end it will be the FIFA members themselves who vote and here the European and South American countries are really in the minority, every country has one vote. The past has shown that regions such as the Caribbean and Africa have proportionally much more weight than, for example, South America.
It will be part of FIFA boss Mr Infantino’s dream to make football a truly global sport.
Those who were already worried about Qatar, with Egypt – let us not forget that this country is also a dictatorship – and Saudi Arabia in 2030, can go wild. But Qatar has taught us one thing. When football starts, nobody cares about human rights or the environment.
Xavier Verellen is an author and entrepreneur. His recent book “The best athletes are CEOs”, which demonstrates that leadership makes the difference between champions and super-champions, is on sale at the Standaard bookstore or online at https://topsporterszijnceos.businessam.be/