FIFA’s process in awarding Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup was significantly quicker than those of most other editions, arriving 11 years ahead of the event. Now, a potentially $1 billion sponsorship deal is putting the bidding process in a new light.
Aramco, the Saudi Arabian state-owned oil company, is close to becoming FIFA’s biggest sponsor in a deal that would include annual payments of up to $100 million through 2034, according to the London Times. If the deal were to begin next year or in 2025, that would amount to at least $1 billion over the life of the agreement.
The Aramco deal isn’t complete, and it’s unclear whether sponsorship talks between Saudi Arabia and FIFA took place after, during, or even before Saudi Arabia’s World Cup bid. Beyond the expedited timeline, FIFA also relaxed its World Cup stadium policy in a move that significantly aided Saudi Arabia’s bid — which otherwise wouldn’t have met multiple requirements.
This isn’t FIFA’s first brush with controversy involving World Cup bids. U.S. Department of Justice officials have said that Russian and Qatari representatives bribed FIFA officials to secure hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 events, respectively. The corruption around those events marred two straight editions of international soccer’s biggest tournament.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has reportedly been an advocate for a Saudi World Cup since at least 2020. Next month, Saudi Arabia will host the FIFA Club World Cup — the last edition to feature seven teams before it expands to 32 clubs in 2025.